UPDATE: The Bureau of Land Management is reporting more than 2,500 acres of land and a barn have also burned down.
By Jamie Hale
A brush fire just east of South Fifth Avenue burned more than 1200 acres of land Monday evening, destroying one home and displacing many residents in the process.
County commissioners declared the area in a state of disaster after firefighters from around the region weren’t able to immediately control the blaze that spread quickly through a canyon and up hills off the 4900 block of South Fifth Avenue.
Bannock County Sheriff Lorin Nielsen said the fire was still not under control at his last briefing at 7 p.m. Monday evening, but was confident crews would be able to put it out overnight.
Nielsen said detectives believe three to four pre-teens are to blame for the fire, which started behind the Rocking R Mobile Home Park and spread southeast into the hills. The kids were allegedly playing with matches, he said.
One home in the canyon was destroyed by the flames, while everybody south of the fire was ordered to evacuate.
Kay Davis, who lives in the trailer park, said she helped some friends evacuate who were in the path of the fire. Davis said the couple owns llamas and had to set them loose instead of risking their lives. She said the couple was shaken up and understandably nervous about the safety of their home.
“I was just glad I was able to help them get something out,” said Davis.
At the 7 p.m. briefing, Nielsen said no more houses were in direct danger, but residents would be displaced until at least Tuesday, sometime during the day.
Crews from Pocatello, Pocatello Valley, Fort Hall, Inkom and the Bureau of Land Management deployed dozens of fire engines, helicopters, planes and bulldozers to battle the blaze. Over the course of the evening, planes constantly dropped loads of fire retardant while a helicopter carried load after load of water to the flames.
“The dryness and the volatility right now is kind of like a perfect storm,” said Nielsen. “I think we’ve got the best in the nation working together … it’s just the unknown and that’s mother nature.”
At one point the fire threatened to destroy a series of radio and communications towers at the top of the hill, but crews were able to snuff the flames just before the reached the towers.
As of Monday evening, police have closed the Chinese Peak and Blackrock Canyon areas as a precaution. Anybody caught in the areas will be arrested.
Nielsen said more information on the full scope of the blaze will be announced Tuesday morning. Until then, he expects crews to continue battling and trying to control the fire throughout the night.
Contact Jamie at JHaleTBA@gmail.com