Wyoming’s Medicine Bow Forest Under Fire Restrictions, Cooler Weather Won’t Help

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By Mark Heinz, outdoors reporter

Stage 1 fire restrictions went into effect on Thursday across the Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest and Thunder Basin National Grassland in east and southeast Wyoming, and impending cooler weather won’t relieve them, a forest official said.

“Fire restrictions are typically not something we enter into for brief periods of time,” Aaron Voos said in an email to Cowboy State Daily. He’s the public affairs specialist for the Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest and Thunder Basin National Grassland.

“It takes a while for conditions to get to a point where restrictions are needed, and then vice versa, takes a while for conditions to go the other way,” he said. “So, while a couple cool, wet days would be beneficial, that alone would not be enough to remove restrictions. It will like take an extended period of changed conditions.”

The restrictions affect a range of activities, some of which include building campfires, welding and running chainsaws. The forest is typically busy during September, drawing bowhunters, firewood cutters, hikers and others.

Massive Forest Fire Started In September 2020

Wyoming and the surrounding area have been locked in an unseasonable heat wave, with parts of the state soaring into the 90s and even the low 100s since Sept. 1. A high-pressure ridge that was holding the heat wave in place was expected to give way to a cold front from Canada, starting Thursday, meteorologist Don Day of Cheyenne told Cowboy State Daily in earlier interviews.

That could cause temperatures to plunge by as much as 40 degrees, he said, returning Wyoming to more typical September weather.

However, one of Wyoming’s worst forest fires ever, the Mullen Fire, started on the Medicine Bow on Sept. 17, 2020. It ended up consuming more than 176,000 acres.

Stage 1 fire restrictions had previously been in place only in the Laramie Peak region of the Medicine Bow forest. That region is near Wheatland and Douglas in the Laramie Mountain range.

Under the restrictions, campfires may be lit only in permanent fire pits or fire grates within developed campgrounds, according to a Forest Service Press release. Portable wood or charcoal-burning fire pits aren’t allowed.

 Only chainsaws with modern spark arresters may be used. Operators must keep on hand a fire extinguisher and round-nosed shovel, the press release said. Welding is allowed only inside a cleared area at least 10 feet in diameter, with a fire extinguisher on hand. Smoking is allowed only in an enclosed vehicle or building, a developed recreation site, or an area cleared of flammable materials at least three feet in diameter.

Other Forests Watchful For Fire Danger

Restrictions weren’t in effect on any of Wyoming’s other national forests as of Thursday afternoon.

Fire danger was listed as at least “high” on most of those forests, which include the Bridger-Teton, Shoshone, Bighorn, Caribou-Targhee, Ashley, Wasatch-Cache and Black Hills forests.

Fire danger was listed as “very high” in the Black Hills National Forest and “Extreme” in the Bighorn National Forest, according to forest service websites.  

There could be snow over the weekend in the higher elevations of the Bighorn Mountains — which are in the Bighorn Forest — Day said.

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