Extremely dry and hot conditions have fire officials in northwestern Wyoming asking residents to stay away from fireworks this Fourth of July, even there there is no official ban on the explosives in the county.
Park County commissioners last week decided against issuing a fireworks ban for the county despite dry conditions, due largely to the fact the county would not have enough time to alert residents to the ban before the holiday weekend. Commissioners agreed to delay the ban until after the holiday.
“The commissioners totally understand the conditions, and they knew they were more willing not to do it until after the Fourth, because they didn’t feel that they would get the word out in time,” said Jerry Parker, administrator for Park County Fire District No. 2 in Cody.
Statistics show that nationally during the the July Fourth holiday, nearly three times more wildfires are started than on any other day of the year — more than 7,000 were reported from 1992 to 2015.
But this year, the risk is even higher due to hot, dry conditions.
“The conditions that we’re seeing across the state, it’s something that I’ve never seen in my firefighting career, for over 25 years,” said Sam Wilde, fire marshal for Park County Fire District No. 2.
Parker said that typically, Park County does not put fire bans in place until both the U.S. Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service have imposed fire restrictions on public lands.
“It just so happens that they both went into restrictions this year prior to the Fourth of July,” Parker said. “It’s been since 2016 the last time that we were in restrictions this early.”
In the absence of an official ban, fire officials are asking residents to police themselves.
“The Forest Service, BLM, and nearly every other county in northern Wyoming have implemented fire restrictions due to the dry fuel conditions,” Wilde said.
“These are conditions that we typically see later in August, later in the year,” he said. “It’s not unusual to go under fire restrictions at that time of the year, especially when resources are scattered then and you know it’s hard to find those resources.”
In Park County Fire District No. 2, which encompasses the Cody area, west into the National Forest, Wilde said there are around 70 volunteer firefighters available.
“So if something were to happen, we’ve got resources for one, two, three, maybe four fires,” he said. “And whenever you get conditions like this across the country, everybody is already on fires, everyone is spread thin. So it’s not like you can just pick up the phone and have a whole bunch of help coming, like you could normally this time of year.”
Wilde said he is concerned as much for firefighters as for residents — especially during the holiday weekend.
“We do typically get some fires on the Fourth, but the difference this year with these conditions is these starts have the potential to grow out of control and beyond the capabilities of our forces,” he said. “It can be really easy to be overcome and not have the forces to deal with a large wildland fire right now, and it may take several days to get help here to help with those fires.”
“We have fire departments in Clark, Meeteetse and Cody, and any one of them can be overrun with fires with the conditions we have,” he said. “And they are all volunteer, we have no paid firefighters in this town.”
Wilde said the public display of fireworks in Cody is still scheduled, but that organizers have the resources to manage the show, since it’s in one place and firefighters wouldn’t be pulled away to deal with incidents in other parts of the county.
“Our fear is, and it’s happened in the past, where we actually had a waiting list of fire calls – waiting for a truck to get released to get to that fire,” Parker said. “So we don’t want to see that, because that one that we might not be able to get to right away? It could be going towards a structure.”
“Is it worth burning down your neighbors property or – God forbid – threatening someone’s home or life?” Wilde said. “Please consider enjoying the public show this year and put away the fireworks you got this year for a future date. We’re in for a busy fire season this year anyway… please do the right thing for the sake of your volunteers, your neighbors and your community, and make the right choice!”