As Firefighters Fight 31,084-acre Blaze, Life in Carey Continues

2014-07-16T02:00:00Z As Firefighters Fight 31,084-acre Blaze, Life in Carey ContinuesBy BRIAN SMITH Twin Falls Times-News

CAREY • Myra Schofield loves the smell of campfires.

Monday night, a heat wave forced her family to sleep with their windows open.

"I woke up, came into my living room, sniffed and was like, 'Oh, wow,'" she said. "It smelled good, but oh my goodness. Scary. I hope everyone is OK and nothing happened."

During the night, the Preacher Fire just a few miles south grew from 50 to more than 31,084 acres, fueled by erratic, 40-mph wind gusts and high heat. Firefighters from the area and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management battled the lightning-ignited blaze through the night. It is the biggest fire to burn in the Magic Valley so far this season.

Schofield's concern for her town's safety was fueled by social media photos of flames reaching across roads and crawling up barbed-wire fences.

"My mom is like, 'You should just pack up and go somewhere,'" Schofield said, sitting on her patio smoking a cigarette, smoke plumes climbing the nearby hills. "Where? I don't have any family or friends here, and if I do they are in the midst of the fire, too."

By Tuesday afternoon, though, the only remaining evidence of the flames that ripped across U.S. 26, forcing its closure, was a barren, scorched landscape.

Crews had managed to knock flames down across a large area, and the fire, while still active, was not growing as of 4 p.m. The BLM expects to contain the blaze by 10 p.m. Thursday and control it by 8 p.m. Saturday.

"They are getting a good handle on things," said BLM spokeswoman Kelsey Dehoney.

Earlier, pillars of smoke dotted the desert's horizon, but reporters and photographers were kept at a safe distance as rapid shifts in wind gusts spread the fire chaotically through the area.

"It's definitely a fingery fire," Dehoney said, describing its shape.

The wildfire started west of the highway but pushed northeast, jumping the blacktop and consuming all in its path before being pushed back upon itself. That behavior complicated firefighters' efforts to establish an anchor from which to create containing lines.

"Normally fires look like a V, but you noticed that fire was all over because they couldn't get that anchor established," Dehoney said.

Spates of scorch marks showed where flames had clawed at the road, and a charred sagebrush skeleton illustrated how hotly the fire had burned.

"It nuked it," Dehoney said, looking across an eerie landscape clouded with dust that settled like fog between the hills. "We're down to dirt. When there is stuff left over, that means it didn't burn that hot. Not here."

In all, the BLM responded with 13 engines, two water tenders, two helicopters, four bulldozers, six single-engine air tankers, and two air attacks, she said. Fire officials had ordered a very large air tanker but decided to lean on the attack efforts of the more nimble single-engine air tankers.

While no structures were considered threatened, the blaze hugged at least one barn and worked around a larger ranch near the road.

Meanwhile, life in nearby Carey went on as usual.

"We saw it on the news first," said Tony Gomez, who was changing the oil on his pickup truck. "The smoke was thick in the morning, but that was it. Just changing the oil and just hoping to keep things normal."

At the 93 Express Cafe, Candy Bradley worked the grill and said the day had been busy despite the nearby blaze. While many locals were talking about the fire, their fears were soothed by the sight of fire trucks pushing down the road, she said.

"I just think that everyone was worried about getting their crops burnt up," Bradley said, laying bacon across a sandwich. "But we had police everywhere and guiding us when they closed the road down, so we felt pretty safe."

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