Fish Fire, Crook County, Wyoming.

Wyoming Wildfire Season: Not Quite Out Of The (Burning) Woods Yet

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By Mark Heinz, Public Lands and Wildlife Reporter
Mark@cowboystatedaily.com

Wyoming might be past what one expert described as a “normal” wildfire season in the Western United States, but another expert said “above normal” danger remains in the region.

“Level 1 Restrictions” have been implemented in parts of the Medicine Bow-Routt National Forests and the Thunder Basin National Grassland, according to Forest Service alerts posted online.

Those include prohibitions against lighting fires outside of metal or concrete fire pits in campgrounds or smoking outside of vehicles.

Those restrictions remain in effect on National Forest land in Northern Albany County, as well as across Campbell, Coverse, Crook, Niobrara, Platte, and Weston counties. 

Even so, fire regional crews in the West seem to have things well in hand, said Karl Brauneis of Lander, a retired Forest Service firefighter. 

“Right now, we’re at an alert level 3 (on an ascending 1-5 scale). A level 5 alert would mean our resources were in danger of being stretched past their limits, so a level 3 indicates a normal season,” Brauneis told Cowboy State Daily on Tuesday.

Brauneis is retired from a roughly 30-year career with the Forest Service, during which he served in a variety of roles – including as a forester, hot shot firefighter, and smokejumper. 

Many forests in Wyoming have ample amounts of fallen dry and standing dead timber, as well as other potential fuel, he said.

However, smatterings of rain across much of the state in July and into this month have helped significantly.

Even as little as a quarter inch of rainfall at a time can lessen the chances of dried fuel being set ablaze by lightning strikes, human folly, or other causes. 

Fire season in Wyoming and the surrounding region peaks typically around the middle of August, Brauneis said. 

The rains have helped, and indeed, the highest risks could be behind us, Laura McConnell, fire communications specialist with the Forest Service’s Rocky Mountain Regional Office in Denver, said in an email Tuesday. 

“Significant wildfire potential has been moderated” because of the rains, she said. However, fire danger remains “above normal” across Wyoming and the Black Hills National Forest that straddles the Wyoming-South Dakota border. That’s because much of the forest and rangelands here are still suffering the effects of long-term drought, and high temperatures persist. 

“For fall, normal to significant fire danger is expected across all areas,” she said. 

There were two active wildfires – one of them almost put out — in Wyoming as of Tuesday, according to the National Interagency Fire Center’s InciWeb wildfire tracking site. The Fish Fire about 7 miles south of Sundance was 98 percent contained; it had peaked at 6,793 acres. The Sugarloaf Fire in northern Albany County involved 839 acres, and was 60 percent contained. 

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