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Flemming Creek Fire: Handled the Right Way

The Fleming Creek Fire was 91 acres and contained in 4 days with no loss of structures.

Flemming Creek Fire: Handled the Right Way
What the air tankers dump is a fire retardant known as slurry, a mixture of mostly water and fertilizer designed to protect trees and other flammable material from flames. (Photo courtesy of the US Forest Service)

Flemming Creek Fire: Handled the Right Way

Editor’s comments: The way the Flemming Creek fire was handled is how it should be done. The response to this event exhibited cooperation, professionalism, and determination to get this fire out. Unfortunately, the US Forest Service does not handle fire responses in the same manner and hundreds of thousands of acres burn because it brings in huge amounts of money for the USFS. Redoubt News will be doing follow-up articles on this ongoing issue and if you have personal experiences regarding the USFS and their handling of fire events, please email them to editor@redoubtnews.com

The Fleming Creek Fire was reported on August 24, 2018. It’s size was 91 acres. It was 100% contained by August 28, 2018.

COMBUSTION, COMMITMENT, COMPASSION, & COMMUNITY:
A Story of the Flemming Creek Fire, Boundary County, Idaho

By Donna Capurso

On Friday, August 24th, 2018 at approximately 1:30 pm, a fire was reported on a hill above the north side of Fleming Creek in Boundary County.

Although the wildfire protection responsibility for the fire was that of the Idaho Department of Lands (IDL), Cole Schiermeister, who is the Resource Specialist and Assistant Fire Warden for the Kootenai Valley Forest Protective District, was the first one on scene and immediately assessed the situation and called for a plethora of equipment to respond to the scene.

When it was determined that lives and homes were in the path of the fire and in jeopardy, he advised the Coeur d’Alene dispatch center of the threat and it quickly became an interagency wildfire incident.

Two initial attack crews contracted through the Forest Service working for the IDL on the Latour and Hudlow fires were immediately redirected to the Flemming fire and the Idaho Panhandle Hotshots were redirected off the Surprise Creek Fire. A local Type 3 Incident Management Team with an interagency roster took command of the incident.

The Rim Fire burned more than 250,000 acres (1,000 km2) of forest near Yosemite National Park, in 2013 (Wikipedia)

In addition, Chief Deputy Rich Stevens as well as deputies and reserve deputies responded to the fire. Fire equipment from all of the local Boundary County fire stations responded as did the Bonners Ferry City Fire Department upon a request by Sheriff Dave Kramer. ISP officer Dusty Kralik responded to the scene as did Boundary County Ambulance and Bonners Ferry PD.

Dozers were contracted to provide fire lines/breaks around the fire’s perimeter. Between 2:00 pm and 9:00 pm, 17 aircraft worked with ground crews. To say the least, an impressive lineup of both US Forest Service and Idaho State owned or operated aircraft included three fire bosses, four single engine air tankers, two heavy air tankers, one Type 1 helicopter, two Type 2 helicopters, and two Type 3 helicopters.

There were over 150 people with “boots on the ground” fighting this fire plus a number of people with supporting roles. The initial attack was considered Priority 1 and the Coeur d’Alene dispatch center handled the radio traffic and dispatched the needed equipment to fight the fire. Aircraft came not just from Idaho, but Missoula and Helena, Montana as well as from Washington.

A “Zulu” group for structure protection consisted of 20 or so firefighters, who were sent to protect the homes of residents which included fire equipment and firefighters from North Bench, Curley Creek, South Boundary, Hall Mountain and the city of Bonners Ferry. Evacuations of the homes on Holmes Road, Lupine Road and Ginger Lane were conducted for the safety of the residents by the sheriff’s department deputies, reserves and firefighters. Law enforcement advised the residents on Turner Hill Road and Rocking Tree Road to be prepared for possible evacuation.

Emma Fields from the Red Cross had set up an emergency shelter at Mountain Springs Church in Bonners Ferry for the evacuees but from what I understand only one person used the emergency shelter. Most of the evacuees were taken in by family, friends and folks in our community who wanted to help.

Slurry is dyed bright red to aid in visibility and help tanker pilots drop a seamless line of retardant. (US Forest Service)

Some of those evacuated decided to stay and wait for the results of the inferno and slept on the ground. The Red Cross arranged for and provided pizzas which were delivered to the personnel at the fire scene. Per IDL, the Longhorn BBQ in Sandpoint and Spirit Lake Boar’s Nest catered meals for the personnel on scene during the fire incident, and Bonners Ferry Super 1 grocery store provided sandwiches.

The fire crews on scene were working 16 hours straight and then resting for 8 hours, mostly in tents and some on the ground. One of the firefighters was injured by a Pulaski, a type of axe used for wildland firefighting and the wound did require surgery. Two other firefighters were injured by bee or wasp stings, mostly to the face; one with 19 stings who was transported to the hospital for treatment and the other firefighter sustained 4 stings.

The fire did come very close to structures but thankfully none were lost and no members of the public were injured. I know that a whole lot of prayers were being said during this trying time.

Cooler temperatures and higher humidity on Saturday aided in fighting this fire. Because of all the cooperation, professionalism, and perseverance of the Idaho Department of Lands (special kudos to Cole Schiermeister who did not hesitate to obtain the needed equipment and personnel),

U.S. Forest Service, North Bench Fire, Curley Creek Fire, South Boundary Fire, Hall Mountain Fire, Bonners Ferry City Fire, Mike Meier from the Boundary County Office of Emergency Management, Boundary County Sheriff’s Department, Bonners Ferry PD, as well as other various agencies such as EMS, ISP, Red Cross and the people of this community pulling together, what could have been a major disaster was averted.

A total of 91 acres were involved and the cause is still under investigation.

As a Cal-Fire dispatcher 22 years ago, I can tell you that firefighters have a very dangerous job. In 2018 alone, 65 firefighters have lost their lives in the line of duty in the US. Aerial firefighting is exceptionally risky as the aircraft, especially the large tankers, need to fly at low altitudes and often in poor visibility. My one ride in an air attack/spotter plane during a forest fire was enough for me (I never would have lived it down if I had “tossed my cookies” sitting behind the two Cal-Fire pilots during that harrowing flight.)

Fire does not play favorites and the residents of the 30 homes that were evacuated on Ginger Lane, Lupine and Holmes Roads were blessed to not have to suffer the loss of family members or their homes.

In Idaho this year, up until August 30th, there have been 175 human caused fires with 7,442.4 acres burned; there were 53 lightning fires with 137.8 acres burned. The 20 year average for Idaho fires is 271 with 11,681 acres burned; the 30 year average is 299 fires with 9,287 acres burned.

Hopefully, none of you will ever have to evacuate your home in case of a fire or emergency, but the following information was provided by Mike Meier, Boundary County’s Public Information Officer on what to be prepared for if that event should occur:

Boundary County
Evacuation Levels

READY Evacuation means “Be Ready” for potential evacuation.
Residents should be aware of the danger that exists in their area, monitor emergency services websites and local media outlets for information. This is the time for preparation and precautionary movement of persons with special needs, mobile property and (under certain circumstances) pets and livestock. If conditions worsen, emergency services personnel may alert you through the Nixle Notification System.

SET Evacuation means “Be Set” to evacuate.
YOU MUST PREPARE TO LEAVE AT A MOMENTS NOTICE
This level indicates there is a significant danger to your area, and residents should either voluntarily relocate to a shelter or with friends/family outside of the affected area, or if choosing to remain, to be ready to evacuate at a moment’s notice.
Residents MAY have time to gather necessary items, but doing so is at their own risk.
THIS MAY BE THE ONLY NOTICE THAT YOU RECEIVE
Emergency services cannot guarantee that they will be able to notify you if conditions rapidly deteriorate. Area media services will be asked to broadcast periodic updates.

GO Evacuation means “GO” Evacuate NOW
LEAVE IMMEDIATELY
Danger to your area is imminent, and you should evacuate immediately. If you choose to ignore this advisement, you must understand that emergency services may not be available to assist you further. DO NOT delay leaving to gather any belongings or make efforts to protect your home.
THIS WILL BE THE LAST NOTICE THAT YOU RECEIVE
Entry to evacuated areas may be denied until conditions are safe.
Area radio and TV stations have been asked to broadcast periodic updates.

Sign up for emergency notification at http://www.nixle.com
Or text your zip code to 888777 to opt-in

This document has been reviewed and accepted by
Boundary County Fire Chiefs Association, Boundary County Sheriff’s Office, and
Boundary County Office of Emergency Management

When I spoke to Tom Fleer, the Pend Oreille Lake Supervisory Area Manager for IDL, we discussed the programs available to not only owners of timberland, but homeowners as well. Living in north Idaho, we enjoy our trees, rivers, wildlife, homes and lifestyle, but wildfires are unpredictable and can strike at any time, whether caused by nature, such as lightning, or by man.

To protect your home and surroundings from fire, there is an organization, which is nationwide, to assist in fire prevention. The Idaho website can be accessed at: http://idahofirewise.org, and the contact person can be reached at: ivy@idahofirewise.org or 208 310-7472.

Because we have a higher wildfire risk living here, it is our responsibility to keep our families safe as well as our property, pets and livestock. You can learn how to make your home and landscape less vulnerable to a wildfire.

You should develop an evacuation plan to ensure the safety of your loved ones, including your pets. It is also a good idea to have a bag ready to go with copies of important documents, such as marriage & birth certificates and don’t forget to have important medicines and medical information packed as well.

Take pictures of the insides of your home of your possessions and put them on a thumb drive or a DVD and keep them inside your “get away bag” for insurance purposes, “just in case.”

At this URL you can access information on wildfires in the area on a map:  https://fsapps.nwcg.gov/

Please remember to say “thanks” to our volunteer firefighters because it takes a lot of guts to run into a burning building or a forest fire and not get paid for it. May God bless them all!

Please support our coverage of your rights. Donate here: cash.me/$RedoubtNews

2 Comments on Flemming Creek Fire: Handled the Right Way

  1. I have been advised that Selkirk Fire of Sandpoint sent Captain Jeff Littlefield and a crew as well. The Littlefield family has roots in Bonner’s Ferry. Thanks for the assistance!

  2. Devastation…..a rapacious and aggressive enemy….evacuation…a military style command structure…..aircraft plummeting to strafe…troops sent into harms way….a casualty list…all the hallmarks of WAR….No less than the decorations awarded to individual combat soldiers, a formal means of recognition and “Calling in for credit” should be instituted, complete with badges of honor, for those firefighters who distinguish themselves.

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