Monday, January 28, 2013

Heroic Efforts Save Property and Resources on Charlotte Fire

2012 Accomplishment Story: Idaho
In the early afternoon of June 28, 2012, a wildfire ignited in the wildland urban interface (WUI) near the city of Pocatello, Idaho. As soon as Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Idaho Falls District Fire Management Officer Rick Belger heard the fire's location, he knew it would be difficult to manage…

Smoke plume from the Charlotte fire as seen from Interstate 15 South Bound.

Aerial view of the Charlotte fire.
"The topography in the area combined with difficult road access and the number of residential units at play was going to be incredibly challenging to deal with," said Belger. "We told our crews to remember their training, stay safe and that no home was worth a life."

The hot dry winds, rugged terrain, dry fuels and high temperatures posed major operational problems for firefighters in the initial attack phase. In just a few hours, the fire burned over 1,000 acres, forcing the evacuation of over 1,500 residents.

Austin Catlin, engine captain for E3421, had just been assigned to the east division when an owner asked them to save his house. Moments later, the juniper around the house ignited, creating such extreme radiant heat that the fire crew and home owner had to leave the area due to safety concerns. Fortunately, the home survived the flame. "While it was impossible to save every house, I was impressed with how everyone functioned during the initial attack phase of the operation," said Catlin. "We've worked hard over the years to ensure good coordination between city, county and federal firefighting agencies, and I feel that all those practice drills paid off."

Helicopter completing bucket drops on internal hotspots.
While the Bannock County Sheriff's Office and Idaho State Patrol conducted evacuations, the American Red Cross opened an evacuation center at the Holt Arena (Idaho State University football stadium). An outpouring of support from the community was extended to all those impacted by the blaze. When the smoke cleared on Saturday, the Pocatello Fire Department reported the loss of 66 homes and 29 additional outbuildings and barns.

Idaho Falls District Fire Management Officer Rick Belger accompanies Idaho Falls District Manager Joe Kraayenbrink on a tour around the burned BLM acres.
 Firefighters took heroic measures to work the line and prevent as much damage as they could. Without their quick response, more homes and resources would have been lost. BLM spent countless hours assisting the city and county in mop-up activities. They even held Fire Wise events following the wildfire.

Statewide, Idaho BLM fire resources responded to 367 fire incidents duing the 2012 fire season, which burned nearly twice the ten-year average. Of the 367 fires, 242 were human caused and 125 were lightning caused. These fires burned a total of 683,000 acres.

BLM Idaho accomplished 109,000 acres of fuels work, 102 percent of the fiscal year (FY) 2012 target. Of this, 106,000 acres were within the WUI and 2,800 outside the WUI. Other notable successes include the partnerships with Mule Deer Foundation, United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Natural Resources Conservation Service, United States (US) Fish and Wildlife Service, Pheasants Forever and Idaho Department of Game and Fish. Critical planning was completed for out-year projects in community watersheds, notably in the areas of Downey and Pocatello. Existing fuels treatments were effective in changing fire behavior to aid suppression efforts in a variety of locations, both WUI and non-WUI projects in various locations.

Story by: Sarah Wheeler, Public Affairs Specialist, BLM Idaho Falls District

Reprint from "The BLM Daily," December 28, 2012.

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