Farmers battle 52,000-acre wildfire in southeast Idaho

About 60 farmers dug firelines and attacked hot spots to protect crop fields and homes from the Powerline Fire in southeast Idaho.
John O’Connell

Capital Press

Published on August 9, 2017 10:01AM

The Powerline Fire burns near grain fields in southeast Idaho’s Arbon Valley. Area farmers helped control the blaze.

Courtesy of Bureau of Land Management

The Powerline Fire burns near grain fields in southeast Idaho’s Arbon Valley. Area farmers helped control the blaze.

ARBON VALLEY, Idaho — Federal fire officials say they now have a handle on a large wildfire and property damage was minimal, thanks largely to the efforts of local farmers.

The Powerline Fire, which grew to 52,000 acres in rural southeast Idaho, was caused by human activity at 8:30 p.m. Aug. 4 on the Fort Hall Indian Reservation. It spread quickly in tall, dry grass, burning south toward Arbon Valley, where roughly 60 farmers dug 10 to 15 miles of fire line to protect private pastures, fields and homes.

Arbon Valley dryland farmer Hans Hayden said it was the 40th fire he’s helped battle through the years, and area farmers have never allowed a home — or even a plow — to be destroyed.

Farmers were alone in fighting the Powerline Fire in their area for the first 24 hours and had 6 miles of fire line dug before the first reinforcements arrived, Hayden said.

A sleep-deprived Hayden, who spent most of a 48-hour period fighting the fire, resumed farming on Aug. 8 and said area growers are now three days behind in their wheat harvest.

“About 25,000 acres of crop land, three to four houses, the whole Caribou National Forest to the west of me — that’s what we saved,” Hayden said. “It would have burned across my house and hit Scout Mountain.”

Hayden said no crops were lost, though a haystack was destroyed. To the north, it burned fall and summer pasture, Hayden said. Federal wildland firefighting officials know of no cattle deaths.

Arbon Valley farmer Ken Campbell responded to the fire with a water tank, while neighbors brought bulldozers. Campbell said strong winds on Saturday fanned the flames and “we could see we were in trouble.”

On Aug. 7, the Idaho Bureau of Land Management, Caribou-Targhee National Forest and Shoshone Bannock Tribes delegated incident management of the fire to a multi-state Great Basin team, which handles more complex fires.

Home evacuations were expected to be lifted in Arbon Valley — and possibly in the small community of Pauline — on Aug. 8, said Jason Curry, a spokesman for Great Basin Team 6. Arbon Valley Highway was also opened, with plans to open Mink Creek Road later in the day.

Curry said the fire was listed as 25 percent contained, but crews were “poised for some pretty good success.”

“Any time ag land is involved, these folks jump into action pretty quick with getting a tractor and a disc on it,” Curry said. “They put up pretty effective containment.”


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