By Devin Bodkin
BLACKFOOT — With the dry, hot weather came two more fires Saturday afternoon.
A brush fire erupted in the median and along the west shoulder of southbound lanes on Interstate 15 between Blackfoot and Fort Hall about 2 p.m. after the left axle of a Utah man’s boat trailer flew apart, likely throwing a piece of “hot metal” into the brush along the side of the road, according to Idaho State Police troopers.
Rob Saunders, 43, of Morgan, Utah, said he was driving home from West Yellowstone with his five children when the incident occurred.
“We heard a funny noise,” said Saunders’ 16-year-old son, Ben Saunders, who was driving the family’s Ford Excursion when the incident took place.
Ben Saunders said the family heard metal scraping the road and saw the trailer’s left wheel roll down the interstate in front of them as they came to a stop.
“The tire landed all the way up there,” Ben Saunders said, “About a half-mile up the road.”
The 18-foot boat resting atop the trailer stayed intact, even though the trailer’s left wheel-well scraped interstate pavement for several feet.
“When we came to a stop,” Ben Saunders said, “We looked back and it looked like the interstate was on fire.”
Blackfoot crews arrived just minutes later and worked to contain the blaze, which blackened a roughly 200-yard stretch of brush in the median and along the west shoulder of the interstate.
State police troopers said the crews contained the fire within an hour.
Although the troopers directed southbound travelers into the left lane near the site, traffic did not back up.
Another much larger fire tore through at least 100 acres of brush Saturday afternoon 11 miles east of Blackfoot, according to a news release Saturday.
The Eastern Idaho Interagency Fire Center responded to that blaze by sending three fire engines, a dozer, an air attack with four single-engine air tankers and a water tender to the scene.
Fort Hall and Blackfoot fire crews also responded.
Smoke filled the sky above a ridge separating the blaze from homes along Little Indian Road on the Fort Hall Reservation east of Blackfoot. But officials from the Fire Center said no structures were threatened, even though flames had engulfed a nearby power pole.
Crews said they hoped to have the fire contained by 8 p.m. Saturday.
Fire Center Public Information Officer Lynn Ballard said the investigators had not yet confirmed the cause of the fire.
Crews scrambled earlier this week east of Fort Hall and up Wolverine Canyon to contain blazes east of Blackfoot.
Firefighters were also called to a 200-acre blaze north of Preston on Friday, and crews finally brought a 385-acre fire under control further north near Dubois.
BLM District Prevention Specialist Jason Fallen said dry heat and last year’s mild winter have given area foliage a much more time to dry out — something that will make any fire spread faster.
“I like to tell people to go back to the fundamentals of fire safety,” he said. “Think about Idaho’s dry weather and be careful when dealing with fire. Always make sure any fire you start is completely out.”
Firefighters from throughout Southeast Idaho will gather in Blackfoot on June 30 to practice wildfire suppression, something that recent fires and dry temperatures prove to be a much-needed endeavor.
Mother Nature isn’t helping much. The National Weather Service has issued a “Red Flag Warning” for Southeast Idaho with gusty winds and temperatures in the high 80s expected today.