UPDATE: All evacuations have now been lifted.
By Jamie Hale
The newly-dubbed “Drive-In Fire” that started off South Fifth Avenue Monday afternoon is now 20 percent contained and has claimed 1,275 acres so far, said Bannock County Sheriff Lorin Nielsen.
Detectives believe the Drive-In Fire, named for the old Sunset Drive-In movie theatre that used to be in that location, was started by three to four pre-teens who were playing with matches behind the Rocking R Mobile Home Park, said Nielsen. The fire quickly spread, burning one home and forcing evacuations of about 45 others.
Dan Zajanc, the local fire operations supervisor for the Bureau of Land Management, said the hope is to have evacuees back at home as soon as possible Tuesday, but crews are still concerned the winds could cause the fire to flare back up.
“Until this thing is 100 percent contained, I always have fears,” said Zajanc. “There’s always concerns, things happen extraordinarily quickly.”
Crews from around the region worked tirelessly over the night to try to contain the fire that spread up toward Chinese Peak and Blackrock Canyon. Agencies from Pocatello, Pocatello Valley, Inkom and Fort Hall dispatched dozens of fire engines, helicopters, airplanes, bulldozers and trucks to help fight the blaze.
County commissioners declared a state of disaster Monday evening in order to have better access to those regional resources. Nielsen said the state of disaster will continue at least through tomorrow, as crews continue to contain the fire and make the area safe.
There’s no official word yet on whether or not prosecutors will bring charges against the juveniles who started the fire, but Nielsen said the bills for fighting massive fires like this one are not cheap. The cost of the house and accompanying barn lost in the blaze goes beyond just a number.
“There’s probably a numerical amount that that house is worth, but how much is a home worth to a person?” said Nielsen.
The sheriff emphasized that anybody caught near the fire will still be arrested, as it is still live and dangerous. The biggest lesson to learn through everything is safety, he said.
The house that burned might have been saved if the owners had cleared the juniper bushes that ran up to the structure, and the fire might not have started in the first place if the kids knew not to play with matches. In the end, it’s comes down to an old lesson.
“The obvious is don’t be playing with fire,” said Nielsen. “No matter how fascinating it is.”
Evacuees can contact Pocatello Police Lt. Paul Manning at 208.243.0899 with any questions.
Contact Jamie at JHaleTBA@gmail.com