Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Rash of fires ignite near Woodside

Chief: ‘They are all suspicious’


By KATHERINE WUTZ
Express Staff Writer

Hailey firefighters Rob Swanson, left, and Pat Rainey extinguish a blaze near Fox Acres Road in Hailey on Saturday. Hailey Fire Chief Mike Chapman said the fire was part of a rash of five over the past week that the department is investigating. Photo by Willy Cook

The Hailey Fire Department is investigating five fires on the southern portion of the Wood River Trails bike path believed to have been deliberately set.

Hailey Fire Chief Mike Chapman said in an interview on Tuesday that five fires have been set along the bike path within the past week.

"They are all suspicious, and we all believe that there is certainly a possibility that it was the same person," Chapman said.

Three of the fires occurred on Saturday, June 30, at about 6 p.m. between Fox Acres and the south end of Woodside Boulevard in Hailey. One of those fires, as well as one on June 28, were in an interesting place, Chapman said.

"[They were], ironically, adjacent to the Smokey the Bear sign," Chapman said, a sign that portrays the fire safety character as well as the current fire danger that day.

Chapman said that after the last spate on Saturday, residents turned in a lighter that had been found just south of the fire south of Countryside Drive.

"That was our supposition before, that someone was just flicking a Bic," he said.

Hailey Fire, Bellevue Fire and Wood River Fire and Rescue responded to the blazes, and Chapman said it took crews three hours to extinguish one that was in deep, downed timber.

"Luckily, the grass still had a little bit of humidity in it, so it didn't spread very fast," he added.

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Chapman said that a fire on Toe of the Hill Trail at Berrycreek Drive near Woodside Boulevard last Saturday was likely also part of this rash of deliberate fires.

"They lit it downhill of the path, which was a little unusual," he said, noting that there was no natural ignition source. "All they had to do was light it on the other side and it would have raced up the hill. It's like they don't want it to get too big."

Chapman encourages anyone with information to come forward.

"It's going to get a lot more serious in the coming weeks," he said. "[Fire conditions] are rapidly deteriorating."

Wood River Fire and Rescue also responded to a fire in East Magic in southern Blaine County on Saturday. Wood River Fire and Rescue Chief Bart Lassman said the fire was started by a homeowner with illegal fireworks—an M-80, or an explosive with the equivalent of a quarter stick of dynamite.

Lassman said he responded with three engines and Bellevue Fire Department and Hailey Fire Department contributed engines. But by the time crews arrived on scene, the Bureau of Land Management had extinguished the blaze and were cleaning up. Though four cabins were threatened, Lassman said there was no damage to any buildings.

Both Lassman and Chapman warned against shooting off contraband fireworks. All fireworks are illegal on public and county land, and only certain ones are allowed within the Hailey city limits, those sold as "safe and sane" versions.

"If it flies, it's illegal, if it explodes, it's illegal and if it goes boom instead of bang, it's illegal," Chapman said.

Lassman said that all open burning has been suspended in the state until further notice. Though small warming fires are allowed, any bonfires or burning of yard waste or slash is prohibited.

Wood River Fire and Rescue also responded to a small fire just inside the Blaine and Camas county line on Saturday. Lassman said the fire was likely caused by a vehicle driving over dry brush.

Kate Wutz: kwutz@mtexpress.com




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