As the Pony Fire continues to burn through the Tobacco Root Mountains for the second week Madison County Crime Stoppers have offered up to a $1,000 reward for information regarding the cause of the blaze that started last Sunday.
While officials initially believed the wildfire was ignited by lightning strikes in the area a couple days before the blaze took off, authorities are now investigating other leads into what started the fire. Rumors from Pony that suggest the fire may have started suspiciously include a report of an audible explosion approximately 30 minutes before the fire was called in, said Madison County Sheriff Dave Schenk.
“Basically, lightning is suspected but we’re looking into any other possible leads that may come up,” Schenk said.
The investigation into the cause of the Pony Fire is led by Forest Service law enforcement, which is working in conjunction with the sheriff’s office to determine just what happened out there. Because the incident is still under investigation, information about how the blaze started is limited.
Schenk explained the crime stoppers hotline is a way for authorities to gather additional information from the public, and they have to follow up with any credible information that may be helpful to their investigation.
“That’s why the crime stoppers are involved, maybe there is something there that we’ve overlooked,” Schenk said.
According to the incident information website www.inciweb.org the Pony Fire was 45 percent contained as of Monday evening. Area rain showers on Sunday night aided firefighters efforts to secure and improve existing fireline, but also hampered burnout operations to protect the town of Mammoth, said information officer Jennifer Costich.
“They have anywhere from a 30 to 100-foot buffer of cleared fuels depending on where it is,” she said. “We’re basically trying to put in a fireline that curves around Mammoth.”
One piece of equipment crews are using to accomplish this is called a feller buncher, a vehicle attachment used by loggers to cut and gather several trees before falling them. Costich said materials like woody debris and both live and dead standing trees are what continue to fuel the blaze in this area.
“It would be much easier for the firefighters to defend if they have an area with relatively low fuels or free of fuels,” she added.
Costich said the areas of the fire that poses the biggest risk at this point are the southwestern and western flanks.
“We’re trying to be extra careful in there and take our time. Do it right and get that burn out and fuel break implemented around the community of Mammoth,” she said, adding that the fire perimeter is very uneven in the among the steep cliffs surrounding that area.
“The southwest and western flanks still remain some active areas, and there are definitely a lot of hot spots that have the potential to burn,” Costich continued. “That’s really a key point in there, because we’re not out of the woods for that area.”
Inciweb.org currently lists a total of 388 personnel currently on the Pony Fire, and Costich said resources include nine hand crews of approximately 20 people, 21 engines, three water tenders, a dozer and helicopters. Confirmed structural losses listed are listed as two residences, four out buildings and one small bridge.
Actions planned for Monday were to continue constructing and improving fireline along the fire’s northern and eastern flanks. On the west and southwest edge of the blaze crews will continue structure protection and improvement of fuel breaks, Costich said.
“So far the weather has been favorable for us and the fire has just slowly been backing downhill through those cliffy areas on the west side of the fire towards South Boulder River,” said Costich. “But to date it has been behaving relatively well in there.”
“It’s going to take a while before we feel comfortable calling that area contained,” she said.
Anyone with information regarding the cause of the Pony Fire is encouraged to call Madison County Crime Stoppers at 1-877-662-7631. A $1,000 reward may be given for information leading to the arrest.
For further updates on the fire visit www.madisoniannews.com or check www.inciweb.org.