Star Valley Fire Chief Gary Hatch (above) directs the attack on an attic fire that consumed a home Monday night.
Photo by Pete Aleshire.
A hilltop house fire ignited by sparks from a backyard grill hunkered down in the attic of a Star Valley home and fiercely resisted hours of effort by crews from Hellsgate, Payson and Houston Mesa fire departments.
The residents and their seven dogs escaped injury as the fire enveloped the attic and managed to escape firefighters every time they thought they had it cornered.
The home reportedly belonged to Misty and Robert Duffy, longtime residents of the rambling house perched on a hilltop at the end of a steep, winding driveway on Buckskin Drive in Star Valley.
At least one firefighter was reportedly treated for smoke inhalation on the scene.
Firefighters initially struggled to locate the house and spot the smoke, then struggled again to get their fire trucks up the steep, narrow dirt road.
Firefighters quickly knocked down the visible flames at about 8 p.m., but then watched in growing alarm as smoke continued to pour out of the attic from under the eves all around the house.
Firefighters renewed their attack, hoping to smother the flames before they could re-emerge, but the flames proved fanatically persistent.
Firefighters spent the next 90 minutes stalking the fire, which repeatedly retreated only to burst out again from another hidden refuge in the attic.
Firefighters eventually shifted from an “offensive” strategy designed to save the house to a “defensive” strategy focused on keeping it from spreading to neighboring homes and the thick, bone-dry forest all around.
In a macabre touch, the fire trucks staged in the thick smoke in a yard decorated with huge wooden crosses. Firefighters relied on oxygen for the hours they spent trying to corner and kill the fire, hauling equipment up the steep hill and sweating in the hot night air as the thick smoke washed down the hill in waves.
Eventually, the driveway and the streets at the bottom of the hill were clogged with fire trucks from throughout Rim Country.
Josh LeBrown, a neighbor, hurried up the hill with a small brigade of friends to help rescue the Duffy’s seven dogs, including several gigantic bullmastiffs and several Jack Russell terriers.
LeBrown said he’d been playing basketball nearby when he got a call to take the frantic dogs to safety. He said that the Duffys had lived in the hilltop home for more than 15 years.
Hellsgate Fire Chief Gary Hatch said he believed that the fire started from embers from a backyard grill.
Firefighters entered the smoke-filled house repeatedly and pulled down the ceiling, trying to get at the flames. But each time the flames flared afresh, forcing firefighters to retreat.
The hours-long effort didn’t save the house, but firefighters did prevent the flames from spreading to the trees and brush covering the steep hillsides studded with other homes.