Firefighters stop wind-fueled wildfire from entering Grace

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GRACE — A herculean effort by dozens of firefighters saved the city of Grace from suffering damage Saturday from a raging wind-fueled wildfire that jumped a canyon, river and road before being stopped in a horse pasture.

The fire destroyed snowmobiles, cars and a shop building and damaged a shed and hay barn, but firefighters kept the flames away from several nearby houses and contained the blaze at around 9 p.m.

No people suffered injuries in the fire that was accidentally caused by a man performing maintenance on a tractor-trailer in a field on the south side of Turner Road west of Grace. Authorities said the man was using a grinder which sent a spark into the dry grass, quickly igniting the wildfire around 3:20 p.m.

The man had a fire extinguisher with him and used it on the flames but it had no impact, authorities said. The 20 mph winds immediately caused the fire to spread east toward Grace, population approximately 900.

Firefighters from every fire department in Caribou County with help from Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service firefighters responded to the blaze but so did many local residents who wanted to get a closer look at the wildfire.

In some cases people parked their vehicles on nearby roads, blocking fire trucks from getting to the fire, authorities said. Some motorists stopped their cars in the middle of roads so they could get out to photograph the wildfire, not caring or realizing that fire trucks were behind them and couldn’t get through.

The Caribou County Sheriff’s Office soon closed Turner and River roads to the public so the fire trucks could get to the wildfire. The roads were re-opened late Saturday night.

After igniting, the fire spread to the east and overran an area where a resident had several snowmobiles and cars parked in a field. All of the vehicles were destroyed by the flames.

The fire next hit Black Canyon and easily spread through it and then the blaze crossed the Bear River.

Firefighters said the high winds fueled the blaze and made the fire unstoppable, even with air support from tanker planes dropping retardant.

After crossing the Bear River the fire jumped River Road. It then destroyed the large shop building and damaged the hay barn and shed.

Firefighters literally made their last stand in the horse pasture. It was the only thing left in the fire’s path before an uncut grain field that the flames would have easily consumed and then — only a half-mile to the east — was the city of Grace.

Fortunately, the firefighters somehow stopped the flames in the horse pasture — preventing the wildfire from entering and possibly wreaking havoc on Grace.

Although the 50-acre wildfire has been contained, firefighters said it will likely take another two days to extinguish all of the remaining flames, some of which are burning in difficult to reach parts of Black Canyon.

About 40 firefighters in 16 fire trucks responded to the fire.

Firefighters did issue a voluntary evacuation order for several houses near the wildfire. Some residents did evacuate but they were all back in their homes by late Saturday night.

One fire official agreed that the blaze was “stressful” for the firefighters but said they were all very thankful the flames never reached Grace.

This article was originally published in the Idaho State Journal. It is used here with permission.

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