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Despite 55mph Winds, Firefighters Predict Containment Of Mullen Fire’s Northeastern Edge

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

Although firefighters on the Mullen Fire in Medicine Bow National Forest were dealing Sunday with brisk winds from the northwest, officials were confident that the fire’s leading northeastern edge would be contained by Monday.

John Wallace, operations section chief for the Type I fire command team in charge of battling the flames, said during a morning briefing on the fire that while winds expected to gust to 55 mph Sunday could create problems near the Albany area, he believed conditions were favorable enough to halt the fire’s spread by Monday.

“Today, this northwest wind is really going to test this area (near Albany),” he said. “The firefighters on the ground are really not anticipating any issues with holding this. This area is really cold, it’s really doing good. So after this really good northwest wind, I think you’ll probably see this area of the fire contained (Monday).”

Wallace said the winds could also create some challenges for firefighters working to contain a “finger” of the fire burning north of Woods Landing. However, he added firefighters have been working for four days to prepare for such conditions.

“We put a lot of work in over the last four day sot make sure this would not be a factor today,” he said. “This is probably one of our most critical holding points today.”

As of Sunday morning, the fire involved about 175,535 acres and Wallace said the fire grew by only about 500 acres on Saturday.

“Five hundred acres of growth in one day on a fire this size is really pretty insigificant,” he said.

Firefighters have completed a containment line around about 25% of the fire, according to the latest daily “fact sheet” issued by the forest. The biggest part of the containment line stretches from near the A Bar A ranch near Encampment south into Colorado, around the fire’s southern edge and back north into Wyoming.

The strong winds seen Sunday were expected to bring a cold front that could bring some rain and snow to the area during the day.

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Retired Forester Frustrated With Lack Of Fire-Fighting Common Sense

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By Karl Brauneis, guest column
Editors note: Karl Brauneis served as a USFS Hot Shot (Bighorn – Wyoming Hotshots), Smokejumper (Missoula), Forester, Range Conservationist, Fire Management Officer, Burn Boss, and Incident Commander during a long and distinguished career with the United States Forest Service.

After decades of first-hand experience, I have a few things to stay about the current situation when it comes to managing forest fires here in Wyoming and out on the West Coast.

Let me generalize with humility: If you get a toothache and go to an environmentalist or an attorney, you will end up with a mouth full of rotten teeth. If you go to a dentist, you will enjoy healthy teeth and gums.

If you go to an environmentalist or an attorney to manage your forest, you will end up with dead trees and a conflagration. If you go to a forester to manage your forest, you will end up with healthy trees and a healthy local community with jobs and material based on renewable natural resources.

For perspective:  The National Forests are approximately 30 percent commercial forest lands that should be managed for timber outputs and healthy forests to provide for local jobs that support local communities. We treat these areas after logging through the burning of “activity fuels”.

Forty percent of the National Forests are rangelands. These areas should be managed for livestock and wildlife to provide for local community stability and recreation.

Prescribed fire is often used to manage and enhance this resource. The remaining 30 percent of the lands are wilderness and back country managed in part through wilderness fire plans and prescribed burning. That’s the general idea.

Environmental activism through the “Environmental Industrial Complex” short circuits the system and takes management away from resource professionals and shifts it into the hands of the Environmental Elites.

Couple that with the numerous government programs of Cultural Transformation in violation of the Civil Rights Act (1964) as in hire and promote based on race, color, sex and creed opposed to merit and you have a real recipe for disaster.

 Forest expert Paul Gleason always said, “Generalize with Humility, Detail Counts, and It Depends,” in talking of forest and fire ecology.

This is why you must have trained resource professionals managing the forests. This is also why you go to a dentist when you have a tooth ache.

With good forest management much of this can be averted. With respect to fire – prescribed fire works best. As we all know and plan for; we burn while the target species and natives are dormant before green up when the soils are moist to achieve the best response and keep forage available for wildlife while we rotate our livestock.

While in California I once saw a Cal Fire Captain standing in waist high forage talking to the media about how the heavy fuel loading in the grass is causing the worst fire season in decades. I just shook my head.

Turn out the damn cows on that grass and get with a prescribed fire program and increase your grazing! I swear the knowledge lacking in forest management can only be equaled or surpassed in rangeland conservation. This is what happened when the California Department of Forestry (CDF) switched to Cal Fire and we went from treating the disease to bandaging the symptoms.

The third week in April was the last week I could prescribe burn our rangelands in the Wind Rivers. That is because within days the Idaho Fescue and other native bunch grasses and the bitterbrush and other native shrubs came out of dormancy.

The forage increase was simply amazing within weeks. The wildlife benefited in weeks because they were immersed in new forage while we rotated our livestock for two years out of the burn area.

We ended up with so many elk that the Game and Fish Dept.  had to go to both a bull and cow harvest for years following in the general season. We lost no livestock. I even proposed increasing the livestock grazing but due to a downturn in the market, the permittees asked me not to fight that battle. 

What the Forest Service needs are more foresters and range conservationists who truly understand the land and how to steward the land, care for the community, maximize production while reducing risk to wildfire.

Remember, those permittees, those families are dependent upon us to do a good job and add stability to their lives and operation. Why do we keep forgetting that part of the picture?

But then you all know that so I am simply preaching to the choir.

However, these two photographs (Ed Young Basin near Lander) say it all from one of my burns. You can have results like this with professional land management or let mother nature give you a burned landscape for months on end with dead wildlife and dead livestock with no forage available until the next growing season. But then you all know that.

Stop prescribed burning in drought when you do not get the desired effects you want and put out the wildfires fast.

It’s the Timing! It’s all about the Timing!

Even when you know the right thing to do. You don’t get that from Cultural Transformation. You get that from range management in college, age, wisdom, mentorship and experience. But we all know that. We just can’t get that across to the politically correct Forest Service leadership yet alone the public.

So, we get death and destruction instead. Go Figure. Stupid is as Stupid does.

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Couple Who Reported Mullen Fire Believe Forest Service Didn’t Fight Fire Early Enough

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

The two Carbon County residents who first reported what would become the Mullen Fire in the Medicine Bow National Forest believe more should have been done to fight it in its early stages.

Helicopters were dispatched to drop water on the fire in the Savage Run Wilderness within an hour of it being reported on Sept. 17, according to a Medicine Bow spokesman.

But Ron and Mayvon Platt, who live on a ranch south of Encampment, said they believe the fire could have been attacked more aggressively, preventing it from doing significant damage and spreading to more than 170,000 acres.

Ron Platt, who spotted smoke from the fire while guiding a hunting party, said he encountered firefighters near the A Bar A Ranch near Encampment who told him they had been prevented from entering the fire area because it was a wilderness area.

“That’s what irritated me,” he said. “The fire wasn’t much bigger than a house. The smoke hadn’t even gotten real high in the sky.”

But Forest Service spokesman Aaron Voos said the rules that usually restrict firefighting operations in wilderness areas have been relaxed this year to encourage the immediate suppression of fires, allowing immediate action to be taken and the helicopters to be dispatched within an hour.

“Policies change … from year to year based on the situation on the ground and the available resources that are out there,” he said. “This year, the message was loud and clear, we don’t want any fire at all on the landscape. There was zero tolerance for it.”

Usual policies for wilderness areas call for fires to be allowed to burn unless they threaten human safety or buildings.

But with the high fire activity around the country this year, those rules have been changed to allow aircraft to drop water and retardant on flames and for firefighters to use mechanized devices to battle fires.

Voos said the fuels inside the fire created a situation too dangerous for firefighters, so they were used instead to assess the fire and develop strategies for protection of nearby infrastructure such as the Rob Roy Reservoir, the Rambler subdivision and the A Bar A.

Mayvon Platt, who spotted the fire while returning home from a trip to Laramie, said she did not understand why some of the air tankers fighting the Cameron Peak fire in Colorado could not be diverted to drop retardant on the Mullen Fire.

“It was no bigger than a small house at the time it was spotted and with the aircraft so close fighting the Cameron (Peak) Fire (in Colorado), I wouldn’t think it would be that big an ordeal to come over and just put it out,” she said. 

But Voos said the air tankers could not quickly be dispatched to Wyoming.

“When it got established in the wilderness area, we would have had to have heavy air tankers at our command at a moment’s notice to put load after load after load on it to stop it,” he said. “Those air resources were elsewhere. Those are not always available.”

Voos said the firefighters were successful in protecting major infrastructure in the face of gusting, shifting winds and high temperatures.

“When that thing got built up and in a matter of days came roaring out of there, we were extremely successful in getting out ahead of it and protecting the structures at risk,” he said. “We’ve got some really good folks and they were able to look out in front of this thing and they were able to say ‘This is where we are able to engage it, this is where we make this stand.’”

Ron Platt said even if the rules for fighting fires in wilderness areas have been relaxed, more thought needs to be given to the kind of activity needed to suppress a fire like the Mullen Fire.

“We need to get relaxed enough to allow common sense, particularly in years like this,” he said. “I’m not against wilderness. I want wilderness. Let’s just use some sense in taking care of it.”

He noted that wilderness rules have also prevented the clearing of dead timber that provides fuel for such fires.

Officials are still working to determine what caused the fire and Platt said he saw no signs of thunderstorms that often spark wildfires.

“There wasn’t a cloud or lightning or anything like that,” he said. “I was outdoors all day that day and I never saw or heard even the slightest hint of moisture or lightning.”

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Cheyenne Looks Like Living on Mars Again

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The sky is red. The air is smoky and heavy.

As the 170,000-acre Mullen Fire rages 75 mile west of Cheyenne, smoke from the blaze is filling the community and ash is raining down.

It’s so smoky, air quality alerts have been issued again for the area through at least Friday at noon.

This morning, visibility was near zero on I-80 in southeast Wyoming. The photos the National Weather Service posted show just how dense the smoke was.

While better weather is forecast for the area over the weekend, the problem, according to firefighting officials, continues to be the sheer volume of dead trees they have to deal with.

The dead trees are the fuel which feeds the fire.

On Thursday afternoon, the heavy fuel load was mentioned again.  John Wallace, Operations Section Chief, said crews couldn’t use the roads in the northern section of the fire because of all the dead trees blocking the pathways.

“They’re looking for a way to get back in here and work. These roads that we’ve been trying to utilize have a lot of dead Ponderosa lodgepole pine and very difficult conditions in there and not a lot of success,” he said.

In the Keystone and Rambler areas, Wallace said “there’s just a lot of dead material in there that’s burning, and it’s burning intensely.”

He said the same thing this morning.

“We are still in there working and trying to actively establish lines in there but there’s been resistance primarily due to the amount of heavy downed and dead fuel, largely the dead lodgepole pine.”

Cheyenne resident Brian Harmsen said roads that were easily passable in a 4×4 pickup in 1995 were more like a riverbed last summer.

“I’ve had to include my chainsaw as required equipment and have cut my way in as well as cut my way out on account of dead trees that fall across the roads frequently,” he said.

Wyoming’s weatherman Don Day says the smoke will remain in the area through Sunday or Monday. He said a cold front will come through the area — which is good news — but won’t extinguish the blaze.

“The front will be a fast-mover which will limit precipitation.  However it’s not going to be enough to put the fires out. It won’t be a season-ending storm system when it comes to the wildfires,” Day said.

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Tuesday Night Mullen Fire Update: 161k-Acres, Excessive Dead Lodgepole Pine Making Efforts Difficult

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Operations Brief. Delayed based on late developing activity.

Posted by Mullen Fire Information on Tuesday, October 6, 2020

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A new team came in to manage the Mullen Fire on Tuesday and they were greeted with the same weather: above average temperatures, gusty winds, no precipitation, and critically-low humidity.

These conditions allowed the fire to expand to 161,151 acres by day’s end.

Less-than-ideal conditions to fight the blaze will continue for a few more days although Wednesday will see a decrease in wind speeds.

Kari Fleagle, Incident Meteorologist for the Mullen Fire, said Wednesday will have the lightest winds for the next several days but temperatures are expected to increase as well.

The good news, Fleagle said, is a big change in the weather is in store this weekend and into next week.

“As we move into the latter half of the weekend, and into early next week, temperatures will be about 25 degrees or even colder than what we’ve had we’ve had over the last several days,” she said. “It’s going to be quite a change.”

Officials said containment remained at 14% in spite of the Red Flag Warning in place for most of the day.  

One of the things we keep hearing about in the daily updates is the excessive “fuel load” that is present on the ground and the fire consumes.

Today was no different. When speaking about the northwestern perimeter of the fire near the Ryan Park area, Operations Section Chief John Wallace said it’s been a “challenging environment” for the firefighters.

“There’s a lot of dead and down lodgepole pine,” Wallace said. “And so they haven’t been able to make the progress in there that we’ve wanted to make. But they’re still working on it.”

In another section of the fire near Albany, large smoke flumes were seen today because the fire moved from the mountains to the grasslands.

Wallace said the movement of the fire to the grasslands will allow firefighters to roll-out big air tankers to help extinguish the flames — something they couldn’t do in mountainous country.

“Typically, this is where the air tankers are incredibly effective,” he said. “The view back in toward the fire should be pretty exciting in the morning with those air tankers working and trying to pick that fire up as it comes out into that grass.”

Wallace said the biggest challenges for Wednesday are going to be east of Albany and near the Rob Roy reservoir.

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Gordon Says Mullen Fire Shows Need For Proper Forest Management

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

The 151,000-acre Mullen Fire in the Medicine Bow National Forest shows the need for proper forest management, Gov. Mark Gordon said Monday.

Gordon, speaking during his regular press briefing, said the fire has shown how important it is to limit the amount of dead timber within forests to limit the severity of such fires by mixing old growth with areas of new growth.

“It is clear our forests need to be managed and it is clear we are making progress where there has been logging that has happened or there has been some burnout activity before,” he said. “This is just something that is valuable in getting a mosaic in the forest.”

Removing dead timber such as trees killed by beetles would also help reduce carbon dioxide releases from trees that are oxidizing as they decompose, he said.

Gordon also thanked the more than 1,000 firefighters battling the fire for their efforts.

“They face extraordinarily challenging conditions,” he said. “With warm and dry conditions forecast for this week, there is no let-up for what we see coming ahead. Those crews need a significant change in weather to make more progress.”

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Monday Night Mullen Fire Update: 157k Acres, Fires Very Active

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Mullen Fire Live Q&A

Posted by Mullen Fire Information on Monday, October 5, 2020

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It was another day of above-average temperatures and high winds in the Medicine Bow National Forest and that, along with critically-low humidity, made fighting the Mullen Fire on Monday a challenge.

Firefighters estimate that the blaze is now affecting more than 157,000-acres and remains at 14% contained.

Unfortunately, the weather this week will continue to be uncooperative with similar conditions forecast through Friday.

What made it even more difficult on Monday was the presence of strong westerly winds and the abundance of material to feed the fire.

“Due to the fuel loads in the area, it’s been very challenging,” Incident Commander Michael Hayden said Monday evening.

That’s something that Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon touched on as well during his weekly press conference.

“It is clear our forests need to be managed and it is clear we are making progress where there has been logging that has happened or there has been some burnout activity before,” he said.

Firefighting officials report that the blaze is very active in the northern perimeter between the communities of Albany and Keystone along Road 542.

Structure Protection groups were spread throughout the fire area including the town of Centennial, Wyoming.

“We were able to obtain a couple road graders from Albany County and they started putting some greater lines out in the grass and sage flats as a precautionary measure in the event the fire makes a makes a push towards Centennial,” Operations spokesman Deon Steinle said.

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Mullen Fire Sunday Night Update: Fire Very Active “No Relief This Week”

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Mullen Fire Weather – Sunday, October 4th

October 4th – Incident Meteorologist Chip Redmond provides an overview of weather on the #MullenFire_WY, current and forecasted.

Posted by Mullen Fire Information on Sunday, October 4, 2020

Although containment of the 147,127-acre Mullen Fire has increased to from 6% to 14% over the past 24 hours, worsening weather conditions will make the fire more difficult to battle over the next few days.

The problem is something people in the Rocky Mountain West would normally embrace this time of year: above-average temperatures and no precipitation.  But this year we need the opposite.

“We are in no way out of the woods on this on this fire. And we really need a significant weather change to really change the dynamic of this fire,” Russ Bacon, Forest Supervisor of the Medicine Bow National Forest, said.

Unfortunately, a change in the weather is not going to happen this week. Expect more of the same. Above average temperatures, no precipitation, and windy.

“The winds are going to be cranking at 35 – 40mph around the fire,” Rocky Mountain Blue Team Incident Meteorologist Sean Redmond said.

“And then rinse, wash, repeat. No relief this week. The fire is going to be very active this week,” he said.

As a result, much of the groundwork the firefighters have done to protect structures will be tested. 

“A lot of the lines we spent time preparing for, a lot of the structure-protection work we did like removing fuels, getting firewood and burnable materials as far away as possible. A lot of that is getting tested right now,” Incident Commander Michael Hayden said.

“All the planning that went into place, at least in most of these areas, we feel we’re ready for it,” he said.

He said a top priority is to get people back in their properties when it’s safe. But, despite outward appearances it’s not safe yet, he said mentioning the Woods Landing area.

“The problems we’re having right now is this fire is directly aiming right back down [to the location],” he said.  “And if we can hold Highway 230 and Highway 127, that’s when we really start to make that area safe for people to go back into.”

There could be some relief on the horizon as a change in the weather pattern is possible next weekend. Cooler temperatures and possibly some precipitation could be in store.

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