Growth of Powerline Fire slows, specialized team takes command

Photo provided by Chris Colt The massive wildfire burning west and southwest of Pocatello has grown to 52,014 acres, but firefighters reported Monday that the blaze is now 25 percent contained.

Submitted photo
The massive wildfire burning west and southwest of Pocatello has grown to 52,014 acres, but firefighters reported Monday that the blaze is now 25 percent contained.

By Journal Staff

Thunderstorms and winds caused more challenges for firefighters battling a wildfire burning west and southwest of Pocatello on Monday.

Jason Curry, public information officer for the Great Basin Team 6 that took command of firefighting efforts on Monday morning, said there were a few lightning strikes that caused additional fires in the immediate area. But firefighters were able to quickly extinguish them.

“Our worst fears about the wind didn’t materialize today,” Curry said on Monday evening. “That was definitely a lucky break for today.”

Curry said hundreds of firefighters from Idaho, Utah, Colorado, Oregon and Nevada are fighting the Powerline Fire that was estimated to be 52,014 acres on Monday night. The blaze was 25 percent contained.

He says the fire perimeter did not grow on Monday, but more fuel within the perimeter burned.

The dozer line on the west side of the fire, west of the Arbon Valley Highway, is holding well, according to a news release. It adds that the line on the north portion of the fire from Arbon Valley Highway east to Michaud Creek is also helping.

The fire has led to multiple evacuations in recent days. Those living around the northern perimeter of the fire down to Rattlesnake Road were able to return home on Monday, Curry said. But those living in the Pauline area, located about 20 miles southwest of Pocatello, were not.

“The southern edge between Arbon Valley Highway and Mink Creek Road is the most active portion of the fire as it threatened the community of Pauline yesterday,” according to the news release issued early Monday morning. “Crews are actively working to secure unburned fuel within the perimeter of the fire and mop up heat close to the structures in the community.”

Curry said there were rumors that residents in the southwestern part of Pocatello were being evacuated, but that was not true. There were no additional evacuations on Monday.

The fire, which grew by more than 50 percent on Sunday, is now burning in heavier timber. So Curry says it’s not moving nearly as fast as it has been.

“There’s no need to panic,” Curry said. “Everything is going according to plan.”

Curry said they will hold a community meeting at 8 p.m. on Tuesday in the Arbon Elementary School at 4405 Arbon Valley Highway to discuss their plans to contain the blaze.

The Great Basin Team 6 is specialized in managing large, complex wildfires, according to the news release.

Firefighters have been able to protect all of the homes that have been threatened so far. But flames have claimed a few outbuildings, Curry said. The fire has also affected some power lines.

The fire was first reported Friday night off Arbon Valley Highway near Ramsey Road on Fort Hall Indian Reservation land less than 10 miles west of Pocatello. The cause is still under investigation.

Officials say it has not only affected reservation land, but also the Caribou-Targhee National Forest, Bureau of Land Management and Idaho Department of Lands property.

The fire has also been affecting air quality in the area. Some Pocatello residents reported that ash was falling from the sky in amounts significant enough that it accumulated on their cars like snow.

The blaze caused the air quality in Pocatello to be declared “very unhealthy” early Sunday morning. But by late Sunday morning the air quality improved to the “unhealthy” level, according to the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality. It had gone up to “moderate” by Monday evening.