North Idaho

Volunteer firefighters fought defensive battle at Craigmont

"When the second one caught then we called for mutual wherever we could find it."

CRAIGMONT, Idaho - A fire in Craigmont, Idaho started in a wooden grain elevator near the high school and quickly spread, destroying an area roughly two city blocks in size in the process.

Residents who live just a half block away say they could feel the heat from the fire as they packed their items getting ready to evacuate. All that's left of three grain elevators and two outbuildings is a couple of smoldering piles of ruins. School in Craigmont was canceled because of the smoke those piles are putting out.

Watching from his home nearby, Steve Steuerwald saw everything unfold.

 "Was out here on the porch and it started smoking at the top just a little bit," said Steuerwald.

The Craigmont Volunteer Fire Department quickly sprang into action.

Craigmont fire

"They set up an engine right over there and they were spraying it but they were still 30 to 40 feet from the flames from the top of the building," said Steuerwald

The fire grew hot enough to spread to neighboring buildings.

"When the second one caught then we called for mutual wherever we could find it," said Craigmont Volunteer Fire Department Chief Richard Samsel.

Several of the grain elevators were made completely of wood and date back to 1938.

"Anytime a wooden cribbed elevator catches on fire it's a critical issue; those buildings are virtually impossible to put back out," said Samsel.

When the third building caught fire crews had to pull back and set up defensive positions.

"It was overwhelming is all I can say," said Samsel.

Neighbors also started to prepare.

"In fact we packed our stuff up, important papers and had our animals ready to go, we were ready to go," said Steuerwald.

Firefighters from all over-prepared to defend what they could.

"We had enough wind with us, we were spreading ashes clear to the east side of town," said Samsel.

At the end of the night, Hinrich Trading Company lost one grain elevator and one building. Columbia Grain lost two elevators and a workshop. The focus is now on rebuilding.

"With harvest coming on, and to even do anything, it's going to be at least a year project or longer," said Randy Olstead, regional manager for Columbia Grain.

Garbanzo beans, peas, wheat and barley stored from last year were lost in the fire. Fire officials will start their investigation Tuesday.