Atlanta residents asked to stay, pitch in to halt blaze

kterhune@idahostatesman.comAugust 19, 2013 

The Little Queens Fire, burning near the small town of Atlanta, is growing and threatening the town officials said.

INCIWEB

— A wildfire threatening the small town of Atlanta drew closer and more than tripled in size since Monday morning — but some residents are being asked to stay.

“The fire chief wants all the able-bodied citizens to stay and help him run the hoses to protect the main street,” Atlanta resident Amy O’Brien said. The objective is to push flames of the Little Queens Fire back from Pine Street, the town of 30-40 year-round residents’ front line.

O’Brien said she had already decided she would stick around to help. Tankers and other equipment are slated to arrive in Atlanta soon.

“We don’t know when they’re going to get here, but when they do we’re going to set up water and run the hoses,” she said.

A mandatory evacuation spurred by the Little Queens Fire was pushed back from noon to 4:30 p.m. Monday. Residents were told at an 11:30 a.m. town meeting that the fire is now at 7,000 to 8,000 acres, up from 2,000 Monday morning.

Although officials said at the meeting that the fire was three miles from the town, O’Brien believes it is a little farther than that. Flames have not yet entered China Basin, she said, hailing that as a good sign. The area is filled with downed timber and other fuels that could push the flames faster toward Atlanta.

O’Brien said previously that residents were worried that firefighting resources were working on other fires and no one would come to Atlanta’s aid. But she said Monday afternoon that the town had some help.

“There are some people arriving; there’s a tanker and some people from the sheriff’s department are here,” she said. In addition, smokejumpers, heavy engines and other crews have been ordered, but have not yet arrived.

Despite the Atlanta fire chief’s plea for help from citizens, many people have already packed up and evacuated, O’Brien said.

“A lot of the elderly have gone already, and people who aren’t very strong or are very nervous have left,” she said.

About 20 people are staying in town to help, O’Brien included.

“We really don’t want to leave until there’s somebody is here to fight it,” she said.

Residents are still unsure when that will be. Officials said at the town meeting that a Type 1 incident management team now working on the Elk Complex Fire will arrive by Saturday, but no timetable has been given for other resources.

Boise National Forest spokesman Dave Olson said one heavy water-dropping helicopter and a lighter helicopter are in Atlanta. Two 20-person firefighting crews, six engines and a bulldozer are expected to arrive sometime Monday, he said.

Other crews and equipment have been ordered, but it was not immediately clear when they’d be available, he said.

The fire moved aggressively to the north and south Sunday night, Olson said.

“The southerly movement is what prompted the concern and the implementation of the evacuation of Atlanta,” he said.

Olson said the Boise National Forest, which took over the fire from the Sawtooth National Forest Monday, is committed to keeping the tiny town safe.

“We’re making every attempt to get those [resources,]” he said. “The focus on this fire is going to be that south end and the protection of Atlanta, so we’ll be focusing on that very strongly.”

Citizens are currently digging their own fire line on private property in an attempt to stave off the flames, O’Brien said.

Although the town has a fire chief, the department was staffed solely by volunteers, many of whom are not in town. When there is a fire at someone’s home, O’Brien said, the townspeople pitched in, handling hoses and water to make sure it was extinguished.

This was no different, she said.

“None of us want to take any chances, but we also don’t want to leave the town without something,” she said. “It would be a lot for [the chief] to do it all by himself.”

Katie Terhune: 377-6219

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