MOUNTAIN HOME -- After coming dangerously close to reaching homes and businesses Monday night, the BLM says firefighters should have the Benwalk Fire fully contained Tuesday morning by 10:00. That fire has burned around 25,000 acres.
The fire activity and smoke concerns closed I-84 and Highway 20 for several hours Monday night, and some businesses in Mountain Home were evacuated. Several hotels, gas stations, and restaurants north of the interstate in Mountain Home were forced to evacuate as firefighters pre-emptively burned up dry brush near the businesses.
"Every time you could feel the wind gust, you would see the flames shoot up 30 feet," Winger's Grill and Bar Store Manager Rae Perkins said. "We got a warning saying that as soon as the flames came over the hill that we should go ahead and evacuate."
Some customers chose to leave during the optional evacuation. Once police told customers and staff they had to leave, managers say everything happened fast.
"[The police] were very quick. They came in there, they asked everyone to leave, and they stood here in the building ushering everybody out, and they only gave us about three or four minutes to get out.' Winger's Grill and Bar Owner B.J. McDougal said.
Although he felt confident firefighters would work to protect those buildings, McDougal worried about flames rushing toward his restaurant and nearby hotels and gas stations.
"Especially with all the news that you were hearing in Colorado and Pocatello, the worry definitely was there," McDougal said.
Police and firefighters were worried too. Out of the many fires the agency was working, BLM classified the Benwalk Fire as priority number one. The Elmore County Sheriff's Office and other local agencies worked with the BLM as they trained for.
"I was at the fire scene first, started evacuating homes," Incident Commander Shaun Sterling said. "It was a big wall of smoke and flames. It was rapidly traveling across the dry grass. There was no way to stop it. It was going to go where it was going to go."
With help from a lot of emergency workers and a practiced strategy used, Sterling says the only building the Benwalk Fire claimed was an old barn.