Friday, August 16, 2013

Sandhill Farm destroyed by McCan Fire

Cattle herd killed 30 miles from Ketchum


By TONY EVANS
Express Staff Writer

Smoke rises on Aug. 9 from the McCan and Beaver Creek fires burning west of the Wood River Valley. Photo by Willy Cook

    As smoke from the Beaver Creek Fire blows through the Wood River Valley, and evacuations are under way, another fire only 30 miles away to the southwest has already destroyed numerous buildings and killed 130 cattle.
    The McCan Fire, burning northwest of Fairfied, has consumed nearly 24,000 acres since it began nine days ago after a lightening strike. On the evening of Aug. 8, high winds swept the blaze into the 50-acre Sandhill Farm, destroying three cabins, a greenhouse and several vehicles.
    The two residents are lucky to have escaped with their lives.
    “It was apocalyptic,” said Bill Corlett, who waited until the last moment to flee the blaze. He saw the fire burning, about a mile away on a distant ridge, then settled back into the small valley where his farm sits beside a creek.
“It was moving away from us so I thought we were safe,” said Corlett. “I told my wife that I was not leaving until I could see the flames.”
    Sandhill Farm was featured in magazine articles as an example of the kind of rustic ranch living that could be achieved off-the-grid, with a little ingenuity.
    Corlett and his wife, Faus Geiger, spent 13 years building and restoring old cabins on the property, raising organic produce. They worked at many jobs in the Wood River Valley to build their dream, filling it with everything they own.
    “Years ago we pretty much committed to carving out a small portion of the wilderness to be self sufficient,” said Gieger in an interview in 2005.
    The secluded farm was powered by a combination of solar panels, wind turbines and wood stoves. In winter, the property was accessed on snowmobile and skis. During summer, Sandhill Farm hosted Sawtooth Botanical Garden farm tours, and sold produce to Hailey and Ketchum restaurants.
    On the night of the fire, Geiger left the property before dusk, but Corlett stayed on. He was determined to try to defend the property any way he could. But after dark the wind shifted 180 degrees and began blowing hard from the east, pushing the fire back toward his farm.
    “I saw flames crest the entire ridge all at once,” Corlett said. “By the time I got out of there it was 50 yards away from me.”
     Within a few minutes, the valley, and everything in it, was on fire. Night turned to day.


“It was apocalyptic.”
Bill Corlett
Farm owner


    “You could have played baseball under the amount of light the fire produced,” he said.
    Corlett rounded up his dogs and fled by automobile to a public park in Fairfield 10 miles away. He returned the next morning at 6 a.m. to find a scene of total destruction.
    All of the farm buildings had been reduced to twisted pieces of metal and concrete slabs. His pick-up truck was incinerated and lying in a ditch.
    “The only thing I could see that was not damaged was the roto-tiller, because it had been surrounded by dirt,” Corlett said.
    “The ground was dead cold, as though the fire had burned weeks ago. It burned very hot and then was over,” he said.
    Three-hundred yards away, Corlett found even more tragedy. A herd of 130 cows, killed by the blaze during the night, were lying in a nearby field.
    “They tried to outrun the fire by running uphill,” he said.
    Corlett said he and his wife are staying with friends in the Wood River Valley, with plans to leave the area, perhaps for good. He said he has no plans to rebuild on the property after such a heartbreaking experience.
     “It will be years before it is even habitable,” said Corlett. “We never thought of it as just a house. It was our life.”
    As of Thursday morning, the McCan Fire was 60 percent contained and moving northward into the mountains.
    Two additional helicopters were assigned to the McCan helibase near Fairfield, which is supporting both the Beaver Creek and McCan fires with nine total helicopters.
    Wildlife had been observed returning to the burned area near Fairfield to forage in unburned pockets of vegetation.




About Comments

Comments with content that seeks to incite or inflame may be removed.

Comments that are in ALL CAPS may be removed.

Comments that are off-topic or that include profanity or personal attacks, libelous or other inappropriate material may be removed from the site. Entries that are unsigned or contain signatures by someone other than the actual author may be removed. We will take steps to block users who violate any of our posting standards, terms of use or any other policies governing this site. Use of this system denotes full acceptance of these conditions. Please review the full rules governing commentaries and discussions. You are fully responsible for the content that you post.

The comments below are from the readers of mtexpress.com and in no way represent the views of Express Publishing, Inc.

You may flag individual comments. You may also report an inappropriate or offensive comment by clicking here.

Flagging Comments: Flagging a comment tells a site administrator that a comment is inappropriate. You can find the flag option by pointing the mouse over the comment and clicking the 'Flag' link.

Flagging a comment is only counted once per person, and you won't need to do it multiple times.

Proper Flagging Guidelines: Every site has a different commenting policy - be sure to review the policy for this site before flagging comments. In general these types of comments should be flagged:

  • Spam
  • Ones violating this site's commenting policy
  • Clearly unrelated
  • Personal attacks on others
Comments should not be flagged for:
  • Disagreeing with the content
  • Being in a dispute with the commenter

Popular Comment Threads



 Local Weather 
Search archives:


Copyright © 2014 Express Publishing Inc.   Terms of Use   Privacy Policy
All Rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of Express Publishing Inc. is prohibited. 

The Idaho Mountain Express is distributed free to residents and guests throughout the Sun Valley, Idaho resort area community. Subscribers to the Idaho Mountain Express will read these stories and others in this week's issue.