As I write this column a massive fire is burning in the hills east of Idaho Falls.
The sky to the east is dark. Local air has been deemed unsafe and Facebook is lit up with pictures of the conflagration.
Dubbed the Henry’s Creek fire, it started near a subdivision southeast of Idaho Falls (in the Ammon area) but has been driven by the winds to the northeast. Reports indicate that a human cause is likely.
Most of the effected country is pretty dry with scattered junipers and sagebrush. There are some pines in and around some of the creeks and on some of the hillsides.
The burned area is a combination of BLM and private land.
Much of the private land in the area is rangeland and, so far, the ranchers have been able to move their herds ahead of the fire.
The Post Register quoted the leader of the federal fire team, Tony DeMasters, as saying this is the worst fire his group has dealt with this year: “I’ve been all over the Great Basin, and the conditions, the dryness, is some of the worst I’ve ever seen.”
So far no homes have been burned despite some closes brushes. The area hit by the fire so far is sparsely populated.
The burned area stretches past Blacktail reservoir and is threatening to move into the pine forests surrounding Palisades reservoir in the Swan Valley area. Nearly 800 homes, about half residences and the other part cabins, are now threatened there.
The fire has, in a week, grown to more than 57,000 acres. How big is that? It is just short of 100 square miles.
The Tex Creek Wildlife Management area has been hit hard. Much of that ground is Idaho school trust land (and Idaho schools financially benefit from hunting permits in the area). It is managed to provide wildlife habitat for deer, elk and moose.
Gov. Butch Otter has declared Bonneville County a disaster area.
FEMA has pledged to cover 75% of the cost of fighting the fire.
Thursday day night a public meeting in Ririe drew 500 attendees. Many expressed frustration that more effort was not expended to snuff the fire early. Some claimed that the equipment offered by farmers to the fight was turned away. Fire officials stated their primary concern was safety and that they couldn’t involve untrained personnel.
Fire is scary, particularly when it rages unchecked.
This one is a difficult one to fight. The area is bone-dry. There has been little rain the past few weeks. The terrain is rough.
I think many of us sometimes forget that Southern Idaho is a true desert. Irrigation and pumped water created tree-lined residential streets, golf courses and green fields.
But outside the irrigated areas is a tinderbox of trees, shrubs and dry grass ready to burst into flame from the smallest spark.
This week that is the hills east of Idaho Falls.