All of the Wood River Valley’s fire-fighting resources were required in Croy Canyon west of Hailey on Sunday afternoon to attack a roaring structure fire, an adjacent brushfire being fanned by wind and a nearby 300-gallon propane tank that was venting gas and had the potential to cause an explosion.
“We had all these different emergencies going on at once,” Wood River Fire & Rescue Chief Bart Lassman said. “People did an incredible job of getting there, listening to directions and getting to work.”
The situation was compounded by a temporarily inoperable automatic dispatch system, which briefly delayed automatic aid response from the Bellevue and Ketchum fire departments.
Lassman said Wood River Fire & Rescue received a call at 3:23 p.m. about a barn on fire at 31 Rodeo Dr., north of Croy Creek Road near Rotarun ski area.
“When we got there, the barn, which was a two-story structure with a residence above it, the whole building was involved with fire,” Lassman said. “We had this fully involved structure fire that was getting ready to consume the main house. It had already starting burning the garden and fencing.”
Lassman said a propane tank about 20 feet from the barn had heated up and a pressure-release valve had begun venting. He said vented gas can explode if it collects in a low area and is ignited.
“We had a hose cooling the tank, keeping the fumes at bay, while we were fighting the fire,” he said.
Lassman said help was summoned from Hailey, Bellevue, Ketchum and the BLM. He said a total of 38 firefighters arrived with four engines, four water tenders, a water truck, two wildland engines and an ambulance. The engines, which carry water and have pumps, were the first to arrive, followed by the water tenders, which carry additional water. A nearby hydrant also supplied water.
The ambulance was not needed. Lassman said the property owners were home at the time but no one was in the building that caught fire.
He said the firefighters’ first action was to get hoses between the barn and the main house to keep the house from igniting. Then they attacked the main fire and a brushfire that was spreading from it and heading toward Rotarun.
“That could have been devastating if the fire had been a month from now,” he said, referring to dry summer conditions.
He said it took about an hour and a half to get the fires under control.
Lassman said the barn had mostly collapsed, but an excavator was called in to knock down what remained so that firefighters could extinguish concealed flames and embers. He said that by the time the fire was abated, the propane tank’s pressure valve had melted down into the tank and couldn’t be turned off. He said a flatbed truck was called in to take the tank away to eliminate the leaking gas.
Lassman said the barn apparently caught fire after the homeowner was killing weeds behind it with a weed burner.
“We believe the fire may have crept over to an area that had hay under an overhang right up against the barn,” he said.
He said the homeowner, Mike Walsh, told him that the approximately 3,200-square-foot structure was worth about $150,000 and was insured.
Blaine County’s emergency dispatch system has a computerized component to it that informs dispatchers which other fire departments to call depending on a fire’s location. Lassman said that component stopped functioning a few minutes before the call came in about the Croy Canyon fire.
Robin Stellers, the county’s director of emergency communications, said the system had shut down when a call taker was entering some information into the computer. However, she said, the person who took the Croy Canyon call knew to alert the Bellevue Fire Department for automatic aid based on the fire’s address.
Stellers said she’s working with the system’s vendor to solve the problem.
But Lassman contended that might not be enough.
“It’s an old system,” he said. “It needs to be replaced. These types of systems need to be up and running all the time.”