The flames from the so called State Fire may be dying down in Utah, but tempers are still red hot over how that fire, which started Aug. 8, and blackened more than 23,000 acres, was handled from the beginning.
Portage resident and landowner Denton John called it “bad policy or incompetency” on the part of initial fire crews that he suffered “$3 to $4M in damages,” while his son, Robert John, was even more critical, calling those assigned to fight the blaze “cowards.”
Those opinions, and more, were shared with Box Elder County commissioners on Wednesday evening in a room filled with landowners from both sides of the Utah and Idaho border, county and state fire personnel, and members of the Central West Zone Incident Management team, who took over firefighting duties last Wednesday.
Denton John said he had a lot of issues over what happened. “I am very unhappy with how this fire was handled,” he told commissioners. “I would like to know where back burns stop and arson begins.’
Robert John said he spent a full 12 hours dozing fire breaks to protect his property and “didn’t see firefighter one. I stayed there and babysat that line,” he said. “I see a whole lot of guys who are trying,” he added of the local fire crews, “but I see a whole lot of problems.”
Not everyone was there to find fault with the volunteer departments than manned the fire lines for nearly a week.
Landowner Craig Garn said the initial lightning strike that started the fast-moving State Fire occurred just 250 yards south of his property in Pocatello Valley. “They (crews) couldn’t get to the fire,” he said of its location. “Then Mother Nature raised her head and blew it all over the place.”
He said any hand crews on the ground would have been done for when the fire took off. “They couldn’t have done it safely, it moved that fast,” he said.
Dusty Richards, Bear River area fire management officer for Utah, said his men did what they could to try and contain the fire, but he soon realized he was fighting a losing battle. “We are in extreme fire conditions,” he said. “I knew there was no way, with our resources, that we could keep the fire in check.”
Bea Day, incident commander for the Central West Zone team, praised the local firefighting efforts.
“What happened with Dusty’s team on the initial attack really set us up well for this,” she said.
Read the complete story in next week’s edition of the Leader