BLM incompetence, threats, and 57,000 acres burned

by Monte Wells
by Monte Wells

The Henry’s Creek Fire in Idaho raged out of control for several days burning some 57,000 acres. Heavy winds made it impossible to get the fire under control. The fire was located just east of Idaho Falls Idaho and involved multiple local and federal agencies.

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According to Bart Stolworthy, a farmer and rancher who owns property in the area, the fire started on Saturday the 20th in a “No Man’s Land” area which is property that the owner doesn’t pay a fire tax. So agencies tend to not respond to the fire.

August 27, Post Register stated, No Man’s Land areas exist throughout the West, and they have a history of making firefighting, and paying for it, complicated, as contractor Donald Artley explained in a 2009 report to the International Association of Fire Chiefs:

“Within many states (predominately in the West) there are remote, rural areas that have no organized wildland fire protection (e.g. Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and Arizona). The failure to recognize that these areas have no wildfire protection and that there is no (agency with jurisdiction), can be problematic, both when a fire starts in an unprotected area and then threatens adjacent land that is under legal protection, or when a wildfire burns off of protected land onto unprotected land.

During a public meeting in Ririe, Idaho on the 25th, Bart Stolworthy, also voiced his frustration with his 10,000 gallon water tanker being sent home Sunday night before the fire was out.

August 25, the Post Register reported that Bart Stolworthy, an area farmer and rancher, said he regularly assists the Shelley-Firth Rural Fire District on fires using two 10,000 gallon water tankers his family owns for the farm. He said those tankers were on Blackhawk Road when the fire was burning Sunday night, but they were turned away. He had to drain his tanks into the road to lighten the trucks and turn them around, he said.

Stolworthy said he felt firefighters’ hands were tied by bureaucracy, and that poor decisions early on allowed the fire to spread. He expressed confidence that the fire could have been extinguished Sunday night.

“I hope they learn to work with us and not tie the firefighters’ hands,” Stolworthy said.

Dave Coffey, deputy chief of operations for Idaho Falls Fire Department, strongly denied rumors that firefighters had been sent away from the scene Sunday night.

According to the Ucon Fire Chief, Scott Norman, not all the local agencies were asked to respond on Sunday night. He stated that his department called into dispatch to see if they needed their help and he was told they didn’t at that time, but was asked to be on standby.

With Ucon Fire Department being put on standby and the Idaho Falls Fire Department stating that they felt they had the fire under control, it’s not a stretch to think that the BLM was sending people home. Unfortunately no one is talking when it comes to who sent Mr. Stolworthy home Sunday night.

The BLM would like everyone to think they did a doing a good job on the Henry’s Creek Fire, which couldn’t be further from the truth according to the local farmers and ranchers.

Trevor Davey a local farmer in the Ririe area stated that BLM subcontractor crews he observed during the fire had very poor communication with BLM supervisors. Without any direction from the BLM, the contractors were left with their hands tied, so all they could do is sit and watch the fire burn.

Another common complaint was that the BLM was nowhere to be found.

There was a rumor that the BLM was threatening locals not to use their equipment on BLM land to build fire lines or they would be in trouble. The truth is that it was the Idaho Fish Game that made the threats.

The Idaho Fish and Game owns some of the land that borders the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) church farm as well as other private land owners. When one farmer wanted to put some fire lines on the Fish and Games property to protect private property, the state told him that he would be held responsible for all the damages if he came on their property. In this case, it wasn’t the BLM threatening people, it was the Idaho Fish and Game.

At the end of the day, it was the local farmers and ranchers who prevented this fire from being any worse than it was. They were able to do what was required while the Bureau of Land Management’s first priority was to prevent the fire from turning towards town. The federal agency had no concern for the farmers and ranchers, and the impact this fire would have on them. They failed to deploy resource the first day to would ensure the fire would be under control. Instead they put nearby local fire agencies on standby and sent others home.

This is just another example of poor federal management of our public lands. It goes to show that local people have a better understanding of their areas and resources than the federal government or many state agencies.

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