After leading a caravan of vehicles through the destruction of the Charlotte Fire on Tuesday afternoon, Gov. Butch Otter climbed out of a black Lincoln Navigator at the top of Gale Mountain Road and surveyed the charred hillsides and empty foundations.
It was the governor’s first visit to Pocatello since the multimillion-dollar fire of June 28 claimed 66 homes and 29 outbuildings southwest of the city — and Otter said during a press conference held later at Pocatello Regional Airport that it wouldn’t be his last.
Otter said state, county and city officials are busy exploring options for financial help from the federal government.
“Right now we’re going through the figures to see if we qualify,” Otter said. “We’ll exhaust every opportunity.”
The governor said that once he has some answers, he will return to Pocatello.
“I hope that’s very soon,” Otter said.
Otter met with city and county officials at the AV Center at the airport after flying in from Boise. First lady Lori Otter accompanied him on the tour of the fire-damaged hills. Both expressed their concern for the losses they witnessed and commended the people of Southeast Idaho for pulling together in the face of this disaster. The governor said he was “impressed” with the teamwork needed to handle what he termed “absolute devastation.”
The hit-or-miss nature of the 1,040-acre fire struck a chord with the governor, and he said he was surprised how much “fuel” was still in the burn area.
“It could have been a lot worse,” Otter said.
As the caravan led by the Navigator where the Otters were passengers drove through the destruction area, residents could be seen raking through piles of rubble. During the press conference, a reporter asked Otter why he didn’t stop to talk to the victims.
The governor responded that there was a lot to see in a short period of time and that he also felt it might be inappropriate to chat with distraught homeowners this soon after they suffered a huge loss.
“It’s a very private time,” Lori Otter said. “It’s a delicate and emotional situation for them.”
The Otters said they hope people who lost their homes will rebuild and stay in the Pocatello area.
“This kind of community is very hard to find,” he said.
“Idaho’s greatest resource and Idaho’s greatest treasurers are its people,” Lori Otter said. “My hat’s off to Pocatello.”
Although the immediate focus will be on providing financial assistance and other support to the 66 families dislodged by last week’s fire, Otter said he worries about future wildfires.
While talking to Pocatello Assistant Fire Chief David Gates, the governor suggested that a film of the fire damage could be made and shared with civic organizations and community groups to drive home the dangers that wildfires can pose.