Wildfire threatening homes near Century High School in Pocatello

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POCATELLO — East Idaho’s first major wildfire of the year is threatening houses near Century High School in south Pocatello.

The fire was reported around 3:30 p.m. Thursday in the hills to the southeast of the school. As of 9:30 p.m. Thursday the blaze had scorched an estimated 300 acres and was only 40 percent contained.

Firefighters said no one has been injured so far by the fire and there have not yet been any evacuations, but the out-of-control blaze is threatening multiple houses near Century.

Fire officials said the blaze’s progress was slowed because of changes in wind direction and three firefighting aircraft dropping retardant. But it’s possible the wind could change direction again and push the flames toward the residences and this would cause immediate evacuations, fire officials said.

Firefighters said the blaze was started by stray bullets fired by a group of individuals out target shooting in the hills near the high school. Considering Thursday’s high temperature was 91 degrees in Pocatello, it didn’t take much of a spark in the sagebrush for the blaze to ignite.

Fire officials said it’s possible the individuals who were out shooting will have to foot the bill for the firefighting effort because they caused the blaze. That bill could be steep because firefighters expect to remain on the scene battling the wildfire until at least Saturday.

Authorities are strongly encouraging people to only shoot firearms at shooting ranges this summer to avoid causing wildfires like the one burning near Century High School.

About 60 firefighters from the Pocatello Valley Fire Department, Ammon Fire Department, Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service fought the blaze on Thursday. A Boise-based crew of about 20 wildland firefighters is expected to arrive on Friday to help with the effort.

Firefighting airplanes are expected to continue flying sorties against the wildfire on Friday as well.

As of Thursday evening, the fire had charred large swaths of hillside near Century High School. Flames could be seen from the school and it was clear the fire was spreading in multiple directions.

The public should avoid the area until firefighters get the blaze under control.

Firefighters said wildfire season has arrived and having a wildfire of this size around this time of year is not out of the ordinary.

Fire officials said that this wildfire season could be a bad one despite the large amount of precipitation that fell on East Idaho during the winter months. They said lower elevation areas will dry out and become very susceptible to wildfires regardless of winter precipitation.

This story originally appeared in the Idaho State Journal. It is posted here with permission.

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