A billowing plume of black smoke: It closed roads, made people stop and stare and cut a path of destruction through two businesses.
The wind blew a brush fire behind Highway 30 into nearby Wayne’s Salvage Parts, an auto yard along the road. It burned tires and cars, even causing some to explode. But the blaze also cut into the yard at Walt’s Auto Salvage.
Shawn Laeger and his grandparents, who own Walt’s, could only watch Tuesday afternoon knowing an old office of theirs was burning to the ground. The building was operational as his father’s personal shop and was full of Laeger’s childhood photos and memories.
“That stuff in there, yeah, it was kind of like priceless, but I’d rather see it go than any of the people I care for,” Laeger said.
But not everyone was as comfortable letting go. Craig Davis owns Wayne’s Salvage Parts, where firefighters put out smoldering cars long in to the afternoon. He estimated that he lost half of $1 million in work and records when his office and his trailer burnt down. He blamed the fire department.
“Well the fire trucks came, but I was standing out in the driveway and waving them to come on, but they just went on by and into the field and into the back, behind the fire, chasing it down the fence line and just let everything else burn. They didn’t come down here and fight it like I would think they would,” Davis said.
Pocatello Fire Chief Mike Irwin said it is unfortunate that things get lost in a fire, but he never puts men in the line of fire. He was especially careful Tuesday, not knowing what was inside the pillar of smoke.
“Obviously we want to protect property, but the number one thing is keeping the firefighters safe and making sure we can attack it at an angle that doesn’t put our people into jeopardy,” Irwin said.
It was particularly challenging to fight the fire because it was in a salvage yard. Crews could fight it from only one angle. One of the biggest concerns of the day was protecting the tanks of propane at AmeriGas, right next to where the fire started, Irwin said.
But for Davis, who has to start from scratch, it is not an easy pill to swallow.
“I’m just disappointed that they fought the fire the way they did,” he said.
The fire started from the combination of dryness and heat, Irwin said.