Body found in home burned by Idaho wildfire

Body found in home burned by Idaho wildfire

26 August 2008

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USA — The body of a Boise State University professor has been found in one of the nearly 20 houses burned when a wildfire raced through a neighborhood, officials confirmed Tuesday.

Forensic tests were pending and the cause of death remained undetermined, but Ada County Coroner Erwin Sonnenberg identified the woman as Mary Ellen Ryder, a professor of English and linguistics who was scheduled to teach her first class of the semester Tuesday.

Firefighters discovered her body inside one of the homes burned Monday when flames fanned by winds gusting to 50 mph spread from a vacant field of sagebrush and cheatgrass up a ridge on the city’s southeast side.

Assistant Fire Marshal Mark Senteno toured the neighborhood Tuesday morning, counting driveways where homes had been reduced to blackened rubble, and said 10 homes had been destroyed.

“This has been the most devastating fire we’ve seen in recent memory,” Fire Chief Dennis Doan said.

Police spokeswoman Lynn Hightower said no other residents were injured, but 17 police officers and at least one firefighter were treated at hospitals for smoke inhalation and other injuries.

More than 100 residents were evacuated before the fire was under control early Tuesday. Many evacuees spent the night at a nearby church or elementary school.

Police blocked off the East Sweetwater Drive in the Boise subdivision where most of the damage occurred. More than 12 hours after the fire swept through, a thick odor of smoke lingered as residents were allowed back to collect what belongings they could find.

Christopher Lee, 40, and his wife, Mindy,35, returned early Tuesday morning to find their home was one of several that had burned to the ground.

The couple rifled through the ashes with the oldest of their five children, Spencer, 14. A firefighter had recovered the melted remnants of a college diploma and a scorched camping stove.

“Everything’s just gone,” said Spencer Lee, who started school at Les Bois Junior High School a day earlier.

The blaze was reported about 7 p.m. Monday in a vacant field. Duane and Lynn Hughes, who live down the street from the homes that were destroyed, said they watched as the fire roared up the ridge.

“It’s a catastrophe,” said Lynn Hughes, 40, as she swept up debris from her neighbor’s yard.

Cause of the fire remains under investigation.

Meanwhile, a wildfire burning between Cody, Wyo., and Yellowstone National Park, forced the evacuation of a guest ranch. Debbie Millard, one of the owners of the Elephant Head Lodge, said all 15 guests had left the lodge.

The fire, about 40 miles west of Cody and 15 miles east of Yellowstone, was sparked by lightning July 26 and has burned nearly 87 square miles, fire information officer Sarah Gallup said Tuesday. It is now about a half-mile from the lodge.

Gallup said 250 firefighters are working to protect buildings and other structures in the area. She said the fire will likely continue to burn until snowfall.

In its first two weeks, the fire burned some unused, unoccupied Forest Service cabins.

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