A fire ignited in piles of cottonwood cotton almost burned three houses in Starweather subdivision north of Hailey on Thursday evening.
Wood River Fire & Rescue was dispatched at 6:32 p.m. to a reported fire in a cottonwood tree at 310 Starweather Dr.
“While we were en route we saw a large amount of smoke, so we called for help for more resources from other departments,” Wood River Fire & Rescue Chief Bart Lassman said.
Lassman said that when firefighters arrived, they found about four acres on fire, threatening three houses and a shed. He said much of the grassy area was covered by highly flammable cotton from a dense stand of cottonwood trees and by some deadfall.
Lassman said nine engines and 35 firefighters arrived from five departments. He said firefighters took about an hour and a half to extinguish the fire, and none of the buildings was damaged.
He said the fire was human-caused from one of three possible sources: a small fire that had been intentionally lit by an adult to show kids how flammable the cotton is, but that was reportedly extinguished; a cigarette butt from one of the three adults there who were smokers; a gas barbecue grill that was heating up but was not right next to the flammable material.
“The cotton burns like gasoline,” he said. “We’re asking people to not do anything to experiment with burning it. A spark will ignite it, and it runs forever.”
He said the falling cotton is working its way north in the Wood River Valley as spring progresses.
Lassman said the department would probably not charge the property owner for the cost of suppressing the fire.
“We can’t prove they started it, but I think they learned a lesson,” he said.