As Sharon Abreu recalls the sequence of events that occurred on June 28, 2012, she shivers and goose bumps raise on her arms as she speaks.
Abreu and her family were among the more than 5,000 people who were evacuated as a result of the Charlotte Fire. Today marks the third anniversary of the blaze that consumed more than 60 homes south of Pocatello as it roared through the dry cedar and sagebrush.
Remarkably, no one was seriously injured in the blaze.
“We saw it come over the ridge, and then the wind shifted and it started going back down the hill,” Abreu said. “We watched as our neighbors’ homes burned.”
The wildfire burned 1,038 acres and was the most devastating fire in Bannock County’s history. The Charlotte Fire might also go down in history books as one of the most destructive blazes in Idaho’s history.
Abreu and her husband, John, have lived in their expansive home on Andee K Lane for the past five years. The couple came to Pocatello from Alaska, and Sharon said they are all too familiar with wildfires.
So when Bannock County deputies issued the order to evacuate, Sharon said the family grabbed their pets and fled the burning mountain.
She said they were not able to return for three days, and when they saw an aerial map of the fire, they were not even sure if their home survived the blaze. Fortunately, their home was not damaged, but many of their neighbors were not as lucky.
“I cried all the way back up the hill when I saw all my neighbors’ homes,” she said. “I’m getting goose bumps right now thinking about it. It was total destruction.”
After the fire, Sharon and John cleared a larger area around their home and added more insurance coverage. The family also developed an emergency plan for exiting the area if another wildfire strikes.
“It was just devastating, and you feel guilty because somehow you survived and your neighbors didn’t,” she said.
Rindy and Mark Davie’s home can be easily seen from the Abreu’s deck.
She said the fire burned right through their 7-acre property and destroyed the home she grew up in.
“That was sad to see my family home in shambles,” she said.
Rindy inherited the property from her father, Wayne Armstrong, and she said it was her dream to build a home and live on the property, which is located on Autumn Lane.
“I knew how important this property was to him,” she said. “I wanted to live here to honor him.”
Mark and Rindy had just sold their home on Johnny Creek, secured financing and were about to start building their dream house when the fire struck.
Though the fire occurred three years ago, groves of charred cedar trees still cover the hillsides. Rindy said looking at the bare, scorched hills is still unsettling.
“This used to be a very private area,” she said. “Even if you had close neighbors, the trees gave you a lot of privacy. Now you can see right into people’s houses.”
Bannock County removed some of the blackened trees, but hundreds are still standing to this day.
“We have actually considered getting a wood burning stove because of all the wood that’s available,” Rindy said.
The Davies never considered building in another location. But the couple did employ firewise recommendations in their landscaping. They also put together a grab-and-go fire kit and devised a plan to get themselves and their two daughters out in the event of another wildfire.
“Our youngest daughter doesn’t drive yet, so we leave the key in the (ATV) so she could get out if she was here alone and she had to,” Rindy said.
Rindy said while growing up in the remote area, fire was always a concern.
“I worried about fire all the time when I was growing up,” she said. “And I’m worried about it now with July 4 coming up.”
The Idaho Bureau of Homeland Security said 130 responders coordinated the safe evacuation of 5,688 residents during the Charlotte Fire and stopped its advance in four hours. Though more than 60 homes were destroyed, 2,000 homes and $472 million in property was saved. Evacuees were sheltered at Century High School and Holt Arena after the fire struck.
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