Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Crews douse Bellevue wildfire

20 acres burned in Muldoon Canyon


By KATHERINE WUTZ
Express Staff Writer

The fire started in Muldoon Canyon, shown above at right, before spreading into Martin Canyon to the north. Express graphic by Coly McCauley

Wood River Fire & Rescue, BLM and Forest Service crews battled a 20-acre blaze in Muldoon Canyon over the weekend, containing it within a matter of hours.

Wood River Fire Chief Bart Lassman said the blaze was likely started by a lightning storm that passed through Bellevue late Saturday evening.

"I think that was our culprit," he said.

The fire started in Muldoon Canyon, but spread slowly into Martin Canyon before being contained by two BLM engines, two U.S. Forest Service engines and one engine from Wood River Fire & Rescue. Wood River crews were dispatched shortly before 9 p.m. Saturday night.

Lassman said the type of fuel involved helped keep the fire from spreading too far, too fast.

"It was on a south-facing slope with grass and a little bit of sagebrush," he said, adding that more sagebrush would have meant a larger fire.

The fire was completely contained by crews at 11:30 p.m. No structures were threatened by the blaze.

Lassman said the fire was on public land, but Wood River responded because the BLM is a little shorthanded.

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Heather Tiel-Nelson, spokeswoman for the BLM's Twin Falls District, said that the crew is a bit lighter this time of year, but still substantial.

"Several of our crew have returned to school," Tiel-Nelson said, as some of the firefighters are college students who work for the BLM as a summer job. However, she added, "We still have quite a few staff, so we're still able to respond."

The fire was not near an area of Martin Canyon recommended by the BLM for a prescribed burn last month. The burn was intended to decrease the risk of a big wildfire by reducing the amount of dried and dead sagebrush and trees, according to agency spokeswoman Kyli Astle.

Tiel-Nelson said the prescribed burn had not yet been carried out because conditions have been less than ideal.

"The conditions have to be just right, and they haven't presented themselves yet," she said. "Things have not yet lined up."

Both Tiel-Nelson and Lassman said the valley is approaching the end of fire season, but danger is still present. Despite the number of storms over the weekend, Tiel-Nelson said, the BLM has faced a lighter-than-usual amount of fire activity in the region.

Lassman urged caution, however, especially in the driest parts of the south valley.

"We've suspended open burning in the Wood River Fire District because we're concerned," he said.

Storms are expected over the next few days, with lightning and high winds that could make a small blaze explode.

"We're keeping our guard up," Lassman said.

Katherine Wutz: kwutz@mtexpress.com




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