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Forest Service Works To Prevent Wyoming Wildfires

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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

Managing the materials that fuel out-of-control wildfires is the key to making sure they do not have to be fought, according to U.S. Forest Service officials.

For managers at the Shoshone National Forest, which covers more than 2.5 million acres in Wyoming, preventing fires from starting in the first place is the key for wildfire management.

Clint Dawson, assistant fire staff on the Shoshone’s north zone said that for decades, the emphasis of the Forest Service was to put out fires, rather than let nature take its course.

“Fire is a natural process,” he explained. “It’s occurred for as long as the forests have been there. And when human beings started developing in the West here, the thought was, even from the Forest Service back at the turn of the century, fires are bad.”

But in recent years, Dawson said that the agency has learned that managing the materials that fuel wildfires is the key to preventing them.

“We’re using timber sales, chain saws, equipment like that, or we’re using prescribed fire broadcast burning, or we’re lighting large acreages on fire, or slash pile burning – where we’ve accumulated fuels from some mechanical treatment, put them into a pile, let those dry and then burn those in the wintertime,” he said.

Dawson pointed out that the Shoshone National Forest has used these methods successfully in previous fire events, such as the Gunbarrel Fire between Cody and Yellowstone in 2008, as well as the Lava Mountain fire near Dubois in 2016.

“For both areas we had gone in and done a considerable amount of mechanical treatments, timber sales, removed a lot of the dead and dying trees that were up there from beetle epidemics that we had over the years,” Dawson said. “We had done some prescribed burns in a lot of areas around the values that we wanted to protect — up the North Fork there are a lot of lodges and cabins, we’ve got the highway, the power lines, just all that infrastructure.”

And, Dawson said, the work was successful, especially during the Gunbarrel Fire.

“The only real structure that was not owned by the Forest Service was a dog house that burned,” he said. 

And Dawson pointed out that the Forest Service, as an agency, is figuring out that these preventive measures really do work.

“The Forest Service I think is on the right track of getting ahead of these wildfires,” he said. “Our hazardous fuels reduction has grown, probably in the last five to ten years, where it’s a line item in our budget, we get funding for it. Our funding continues to increase – our number of acres, (that’s the metric that we’re graded on, if you will, with the government) – our acreage that we have to accomplish each year seems to be increasing every year. And our target this last year was about 4,800 acres; we got just shy of 10,000 acres treated, and that’s through both mechanical and prescribed burning.”

While wary eyes watched the California wildfires burn the last two summers, Dawson explained that fuels that allowed the California disaster to burn uncontrollably are different from what Wyoming forests contain.

“In California, you can burn the same fuel bed year after year after year, it just comes back as grass, brush and whatnot,” he said. “And so they have a different problem than what we’ve got. Here we can treat something, and it can last 15 to 20 years before we need to come back and re-treat it.”

According to the Center for Disaster Philanthropy, which tracks natural disasters and their impacts, a total of 58,733 wildfires across the country burned more than 7.13 million acres in 2021 – that’s fewer than the average year-to-date to that point, which was 61,524 fires burning 7.47 million acres per year.

But even though last year saw fewer fires, the damage to property and the impact on local and federal agencies was significant, with experts saying the intensity of the fires proved difficult to fight.

That’s why the Forest Service and its partners will continue to be on guard to protect the national forests against catastrophic wildfires.

“We know they’re coming,” Dawson warned. “It’s not a matter of if, it’s when.”

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Dragon 61 Fights Her Last Fire: Powell Firefighter Dies On Assignment

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By Mark Davis, Powell Tribune

Like many young adults, Layla Bradley was struggling to find her place in the world. She was working as a bartender at Edelweiss Riverhouse, in Clark, when she finally found her place. But instead of it being in the bar, it was in the wilderness fighting fires.

Bradley had always been intrigued by firefighting. She shared her secret with her late father, Burt.

The avocation was in her blood: Burt and his father, Layla’s grandfather Burton, had both served as firefighters.

Burt knew Mike Specht, who owns the Clark-based wildland firefighter team, Dragon Fighters, and mentioned Layla’s interest. In 2018 she got her shot and quickly earned a reputation as a tireless worker; her passion was an inspiration to her co-workers, Specht said.

“There’s a lot of people out there that are better now for knowing her and working with her,” he said.

Layla was recently promoted to engine boss and was already studying for the next level. Her hard work and leadership was bringing her recognition in the tough business. While working the Mullen Fire near Laramie earlier this year, she was credited for saving several homes in the South Keystone community.

“She was totally into her work,” said her mother, Janet Reed-Bradley. “She loved it.”

Layla’s intelligence was matched by her brawn, Specht said. She spent much of her spare time hiking the hills and working out.

“She was one of the fittest people I’ve known,” he said.

That was one of the main reasons Specht was shocked when he heard the 29-year-old had died while on assignment in the Inyo National Forest in California on Oct. 11. The cause of her death has yet to be determined.

Layla’s crew was working in the forest on a day with extreme fire danger. They were patrolling when it started to snow and for safety reasons, the crew was brought back to the station. Specht spoke with Bradley by phone, extending the crew’s stay for another two weeks. She didn’t say she was feeling poorly; it was just a typical call, he said.

Two hours later she was found unresponsive. Crews tried to revive her, but were unable to bring her back, according to reports.

Cody Regional Health

It had already been a tough year for the family. Burt Bradley passed away Jan. 16 after a short battle with cancer.

Despite earning the nickname “Animal” during his young, athletic years, Burt was a very well spoken and sensitive father.

“His death hit [Layla] hard,” Specht said. “They were really close. He was always challenging her to be better.” 

Layla always had a sketchbook with her and shared poetry and art with her father. He too would write poems, often exchanging their art on a daily basis. It was her father that got her addicted to athletics as well.

“He was a runner and ran his whole life. And he and Layla worked out together,” Reed-Bradley said.

Layla played volleyball, basketball and ran track at Powell High School before heading to Colorado Mesa College, in Grand Junction, where she joined the rugby team.

Layla’s passing left her family in shock. Layla was planning to spend time with them in Georgia during the off-season. She had already been on the job for 100 days — longer than most seasons — and was looking forward to being with family and on the road, sister Sierra Bradley-Warfel said. Family was very important to Layla, her mother said.

“She was a very loving and caring person,” she said.

Like her father, Layla earned a nickname from her co-workers.

“Most of the guys knew her as Dragon 61,” Specht said, adding that 61 was her engine number. “She was very proud of that.”

“A lot of people’s homes and businesses were saved because of her efforts,” he added.

Friends, family and colleagues plan a celebration of Layla’s life at 11 a.m. Saturday at the Mountain View Clubhouse, 1001 Road 18. The public is invited. Her family is requesting those wishing to make gifts, donate in Bradley’s name to Wildland Firefighter Foundation, wffoundation.org.

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Park County Residents Rally Around Victims Who Lost Everything in Fire

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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

Two families who lost everything in an overnight wildfire in northwestern Wyoming are feeling the support of their community.

Less than a week ago, Becky Flowers and her stepson Roy, along with Becky’s sister- and brother-in-law and their son, were urged to evacuate their homes in Clark, about 30 miles northwest of Cody. Hurricane-force winds Nov. 15 night had taken down a power line, which fell into a tree on County Road 1AB. The sparks lit the dry grass, and the gusts, which were reported to be in excess of 100 mph, quickly carried the fire toward the lower Line Creek area.

“About (11 p.m.) we were notified by my nephew that lives next door to look out for some flames in Clark,” Becky told Cowboy State Daily. “We didn’t see them at 11:30, but we saw them by 11:45.”

Roy Flowers, Becky’s stepson, urged her into action.

“Roy said, ‘Get your medication, get any cash you got laying around, get a change of clothes and let’s get out of here.’ He looked out and could see the red,” Becky recalled.

Becky said they got into Roy’s vehicle and hurried next door to  help her brother- and sister-in-law and their son evacuate.

“We went over there to help them pick up their kittens and their cats and dogs and get their selves together and get out,” said Becky. “And then I hollered at Roy from the porch, and said, ‘The cinders are coming over the house, there’s red fire coming down on top of your car.’”

 The Flowers and Powell families narrowly escaped, according to Becky.

“We were in our cars and we got out, but we were very close to driving through a wall of flames just to get up onto Crossfire Trail out of the driveways,” she said. “So it was nip and tuck.”

Although they escaped with their lives, the belongings of both families were not spared. The mobile home Becky and Roy lived in while they were building a new home is now a pile of ashes – as is the house that was under construction, along with several outbuildings. 

Becky’s 2013 Hyundai Tucson is a burned hunk of metal. The Powell family home was also completely consumed. 

In total, seven outbuildings and a bridge on Gunpowder Road were destroyed in the fire. 

To make matters worse, Becky said both her mobile home and the building under construction were not insured.

“The home we were building was not at a point where we could get insurance, because we were building it ourselves,” she explained. “And so we had to wait until it was at a certain point before you can get them to insure it. The next project was getting electrical wiring hooked up, and then it would be ready to go. We just had the fire hit before the electricians did.” Becky added that the Powells’ home was insured.

But Flowers considers herself lucky. Her neighbor Cindy Ruth died of smoke inhalation while trying to escape the fire.

“She lived down the road, probably a mile, mile and a half from us,” Becky said. “On the other side of Line Creek.”

Becky and Roy Flowers both work for Cody Regional Health, and Becky said the administration has been extremely generous.

“The hospital has given us a cottage to stay in here on the complex that they use for traveling doctors and nurses, but we don’t have any of them traveling around right now since COVID,” she said. “So it’s empty, and they are gracious. They are just letting us stay here — until.”

Flowers said she has been bowled over by the generosity of the community and her co-workers.

“There have been lots of messages and lots of caring, and coming to check on us, and making sure that every time we walk through the hospitals, there’s always somebody asking, ‘How are you doing? What are you doing? Do you need anything, anything at all?’ And it’s just been fantastic. It’s just been unreal.”

In answer to those questions, Becky’s daughter, Nikki, has organized a GoFundMe campaign to help her family recoup some of the loss.

“I set it up for out of town family and friends who were asking how they could help,” Nikki said. “And I mostly did it for my mom and my brother because I know that there’s no insurance on their property.” 

Nikki said she has been overwhelmed by the amount of support expressed in the community.

“It’s above and beyond anything I could have expected,” she said. “But as usual, the town rallies like it always does.”

Becky, who is 75, said that the fire is making her re-think where she will live now.

“I don’t want to live that far out of town and away from my doctors and stuff like that,” she said. “That’s a long way when you look at it from a realistic point. I mean, we still have the property and will keep it you know, but it’ll just probably go down to the next generation. We’ve had it for a long time.”

But Becky said she isn’t mourning the material things that were lost in the fire. Instead, she’s looking forward.

“We just have to start a new journey. That’s it.”

If anyone would like help out the Flowers and Powell families:

https://www.gofundme.com/f/ftj65q-fire-relief?utm_campaign=p_cf+share-flow-1&utm_medium=email&utm_source=customer

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One Person Killed, Multiple Buildings Lost In Large Fire In Clark

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By Mark Davis, Powell Tribune

A fire erupted on Monday night in Clark, claiming the life of one resident — along with two homes — as it rapidly burned across 300 acres near Line Creek.

Dozens of residents on and around Crossfire Trail were forced to evacuate in the middle of the night as the flames were fueled by dry conditions and wind gusts reported to have reached 100 mph.

While officials and residents assume the fire was started by downed electrical lines, Clark Fire Chief Nate Hoffert said Tuesday that the cause of the fire is still under investigation.

Large tracts of ground were burned to the stubs, as the fire ignited everything in its path — including outbuildings, automoblies and other home supplies. The flames moved east through the creek, burning through hundreds of trees before jumping into areas of dry sagebrush steppe on the north side of Crossfire Trail. Firefighters spent their time Tuesday on the banks of Line Creek putting out hot spots.

Mid-morning Tuesday, Jarod McCleary and Ashley Hughes were out surveying the damage at their home on Hoot Owl Trail.

“We saw it coming down from the north, then it jumped the creek,” McCleary said. “It was just a line of fire all the way down the creek and we got the hell out here.”

The couple was lucky. Hughes was able to evacuate shortly after 10:30 p.m. — when the fire was reported to the Park County Sheriff’s Office — while McCleary stayed behind to monitor the fire line. The wind was blowing at dangerously high speeds, being violent enough to destroy a small building and other equipment associated with a Park County radio repeater and scatter debris over a broad area.

By midnight, a weather station in the area was logging gusts of at least 75 mph, with sustained winds of 58 mph, according to National Weather Service data. At the time, the temperature remained an unseasonably warm 65 degrees Fahrenheit.

“Our house was shaking. You could literally watch the windows bowing in and out from the wind,” Hughes said, adding, “It was a bad place to be.”

Soon after Hughes headed to the Clark Pioneer Recreation Center — which was opened to receive evacuees — McCleary saw a line of fire descending on their property, so he also evacuated. When the couple returned home Tuesday, they were shocked to see their house still standing.

“The fire completely surrounded the house — you can see the burned grass — but all we lost was an ATV trailer and some tires,” McCleary said.

Marcella Bodner and her husband Steven Fish live near Line Creek, less than a mile from where the fire started. When they saw the flames heading toward their home, Fish immediately raced to several nearby residences to warn of the encroaching flames.

“He went next door and pounded on the door,” Bodner said. “He didn’t get an answer, so he went to the next house. They were already pulling themselves together. Then he tried to go up to the chalet on the hill, but he couldn’t get through.”

Eventually the couple was forced from their home. They took several vehicles and pets with them to the recreation center, but couldn’t get all the animals.

“We thought we had lost some, but we found them all well this morning,” Bodner said.

She credited volunteers firefighters and those at the recreation center for their fast assistance.

“This is a wonderful community,” she said.

As they battled the blaze, firefighters from Clark were joined by crews from Powell, Cody and Belfry, Montana, who arrived just after 11 p.m. Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service firefighters arrived early Tuesday to relieve crews who’d worked through the night, said Hoffert, the leader of the Clark department. Clark officials remained on the scene to search for residents, still trying to locate two other people on Tuesday morning.

“We’re trying to make sure that we have everyone accounted for. Evacuees went in all different directions,” Hoffert said.

Many stayed overnight at the center, in Cody hotels or with friends in Clark. While most homes were spared, others were still smoldering Tuesday morning.

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Firefighters To Conduct Fuel Reduction Burns In Grand Teton National Park

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By Robert Davis, The Center Square

Firefighters will conduct a series of fuel reduction projects to prevent wildfires in Grand Teton National Park over the next few weeks, the National Park Service (NPS) announced this week.

The projects will include thinning trees and removing low-hanging branches, dead wood and brush from the forest floor. Firefighters will then burn piles of the debris “under low fire behavior conditions resulting from wet weather and snow accumulation,” NPS said.

However, officials said it is difficult to know exactly when the work will begin because the piles can only be ignited under certain conditions such as favorable winds and weather.

Beaver Creek and Elk Ranch will be among the areas in Grand Teton National Park that will we impacted by the burns.

“Smoke may be visible from these piles during the day of ignition and may linger in the area for a few days following,” said NPS, which will monitor the areas after the burns.

Jonathan Wood, vice president of law and policy at the Bozeman, Mont.-based Property and Environment Research Center (PERC), a free enterprise think tank, told The Center Square that “wildfires are a significant threat not only to western communities, air quality, and watersheds, but also America’s treasured national parks.”

“This summer, fires burned through nearly 70% of Lassen Volcanic National Park and may have killed hundreds of giant trees in Sequoia National Park. Mitigating fire risks through fuel reduction and prescribed burns is critical to protecting some of our most cherished places,” Wood added.

A report by the University of Wyoming’s Department of Geology and Geophysics that was published in June concluded that Wyoming may be in for a long wildfire season because the Rocky Mountain region is experiencing hotter summers and drier winters, both of which are turning old trees into wildfire fuel.

The Teton Interagency Fire has put out 44 fires since April of this year, according to data. Twenty-seven of those fires were caused by lightning while another six were determined to be caused by humans.

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Campbell County Firefighters Head To California To Help Fight Caldor Fire

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By Jennifer Kocher, Cowboy State Daily

Three firefighters from Campbell County have been dispatched to the Caldor Fire in Eldorado County, California. 

Brush 2 crew Bayelee Burton, George White and Daniel Slack left Tuesday, taking with them a fire truck with a 1,000-gallon water capacity to assist with the fire, according to CCFD Division Chief Dale Izatt. 

The Caldor Fire is east of Omo Ranch and south of the community of Grizzly Flats in El Dorado National Forest, according to the Cal Fire incident page

The fire began on the evening of Aug. 17, and as of the latest report on Sept. 15, has burned 219,267 acres and is 70% contained. 

So far, two civilians and 16 firefighters have been injured in the fire. More than 1,000 structures have been destroyed, with an additional 81 structures damaged. The firefighters will be gone for at least 14 days. 

“This is quite a big one for us,” Izatt said, “and we wish them well.”

This is not the first time Campbell County firefighters have assisted other states.

After a busy season in northeast Wyoming this summer, Izatt said that things have slowed down at home, so the department offered its their services by listing its truck as available for help within the state or nation.

California called first. The Campbell County firemen will be heading to Heavenly Ski Resort near Lake Tahoe, where they’ve been dispatched. 

“They were excited to go,” Izatt said. 

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Sand Creek Fire Expands to 907 Acres; 30 Percent Contained

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By Jimmy Orr, Cowboy State Daily

The wildfire known as the “Sand Creek Fire” burning west of Lander has grown to 907 acres and is now 30 percent contained, fire officials said Wednesday.

Laura Lozier, the public information officer for Lander’s field office of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, told Cowboy State Daily that a “Red Flag Warning” will stay in effect for Wednesday and Thursday which means that conditions in the area — such as high temperatures, low humidity, and strong winds — could contribute to increased fire danger.

“Really if we can make it through the next two days of critical weather, things will be much more favorable for less fire activity,” Lozier said.

She said there were 175 firefighters battling the blaze, including four crews working with hand-powered fire suppression equipment, two smoke-jumping crews, 11 fire engines and three helicopters.

The fire, about midway between Lander and Fort Washakie, is in mountainous terrain and does pose some danger to structures owned by private individuals and the U.S. Forest Service.

“We do have structure protection crews in place,” Lozier said. “They aren’t threatened currently but they are in place if we need to activate those resources.”

The fire is being managed under a “full suppression strategy” which ensures that all actions reflect a commitment to incident personnel safety and public safety, she said.

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Wildfire Smoke Clouds Sublette County Skies, Harming Air Quality

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By: Brady Oltmans, Pinedale Roundup

PINEDALE – The Gulf Coast is underwater leaving millions in southern Louisiana without power. Hurricane Ida has hit the northeast, claiming at least 17 lives. Over 53,000 people have been forced to evacuate tourism hotspot Lake Tahoe as the Caldor Fire has burned close to 200,000 acres. And somewhere in the middle of it all, cozy little Pinedale is covered in smoke.

Following nearly ideal late-summer conditions last weekend, air quality in Pinedale took a severe nosedive late Aug. 30. Smoke from nearly 100 different wildfires across the west wafted into the Wind River Range by then, forcing Pinedale residents to stare at a ruby-red sunset that evening. The following sunrise cast a smoky, nearly post-apocalyptic glow among town.

“This is certainly more smoke certainly than in the most recent years we’ve seen,” Keith Guille of the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality said.

A hazy skyline has reoccurred throughout the county this summer, sometimes blocking views of the Wind River and Wyoming ranges altogether. The latest developments could give way to more potentially dangerous circumstances.

At its worst point over the week, between 6 and 9 a.m. on Aug. 31, the AQI (air quality index) registered 160 on the Environmental Protection Agency’s measuring scale, putting it in the upper echelon of United States cities for hazardous air quality. EPA’s AQI scale lists 151-200 as unhealthy and recommends limiting prolonged outdoor exertion in that range. That was the most hazardous the town’s air quality had been measured this summer. Well, so far.

The EPA’s air quality forecast predicted conditions to worsen into early next week with levels estimated to reach 150 around sunset on Sunday. Air quality forecasts show measurements as high as 180 for noon on Sept. 6.

Guille said the Wyoming DEQ doesn’t follow the EPA’s AQI, although it is a helpful guide for the public. The Wyoming DEQ looks at ambient air monitoring, pollutants and particulate matter. They work with the National Weather Service and Department of Health to put out possible air alerts. Despite using different metrics, what the DEQ has seen so far is concerning.

Experts have no doubt wildfires are the culprit. The National Interagency Fire Center based in Boise, Idaho, reported 84 active large fires nationally as of Sept. 2. That didn’t include individual fires within complexes. According to the NIFC’s statistics, those 84 active fires have burned 2,713,387 acres.

Guille said Wyoming’s air quality entirely depends on weather patterns, where those fires are burning and how much smoke results from them.

“The smoke doesn’t stop at borders,” he said. “A lot of the smoke we’re seeing across Wyoming isn’t coming from Wyoming or even neighboring states. The region is experiencing this from multiple fires.”

Ten different states reported large fires on Sept. 2 – Idaho (20 fires), Montana (18), Washington (15), California (14), Oregon (6), Wyoming (4), Minnesota (2), Nevada (2), Colorado (1), Michigan (1) and Utah (1). Wyoming’s four fires were the Crater Ridge Fire, Morgan Creek Fire, Black Mountain Fire and Muddy Slide Fire. As of the Sept. 2 update, the Morgan Creek fire in the Medicine Bow-Routt National Forests reached 7,509 acres at 24-percent containment. The Crater Ridge Fire in Bighorn National Forest had burned 6,232 acres and was 52-percent contained. The Muddy Slide Fire in Medicine Bow-Routt National Forests burned 4,093 acres and was 80-percent contained. The newer Black Mountain Fire in Medicine Bow-Routt National Forests had burned 416 acres with no containment.

NFIC statistics showed, as of Sept. 2, there have been 43,168 fires that have burned 4,971,541 collective acres. Both of those figures are the highest year-to-date statistics since 2018 – and surpass the 10-year average year-to-date fire amounts – with a considerable amount of the fire season remaining.

“We’re used to having great air quality across the state and when we do see this it is alarming,” Guille said.

On Aug. 30, the Bureau of Land Management’s High Desert District lifted fire restrictions on all BLM land in Sublette, Sweetwater, Lincoln, Fremont, Teton and Uinta counties. The Bridger-Teton National Forest lifted its fire ban and lowered wildfire risk last week. Bridger-Teton National Forest and the Bureau of Land Management still advise all to practice wildfire safety.

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Powell’s Used Fire Trucks Are A Hard Sell

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By Mark Davis, Powell Tribune

When the alarm sounds, Powell Volunteer Fire Department vehicles come to the rescue looking new and shiny. Even after fighting wildland fires off-road, it’s rare to catch a glimpse of the equipment looking anything but perfect.

After the fire is out, but before returning to their jobs and families, volunteers often take the time to clean. The effort is partly pride, but mostly to make hard-fought for equipment last.

“We take a lot of pride in our fleet,” said Powell Fire Chief Dustin Dicks. “We keep them on an amortization schedule so we don’t end up with an aging fleet and have to replace multiple trucks in the same year.”

Every piece of specialized equipment is expensive: fire trucks alone cost Powell taxpayers between $200,000 and $750,000 each. The department was due to buy a new tanker this year. It would have replaced a 1987 model still in use but needing repairs. But with a price tag of about $450,000, the Powell fire district’s board decided to put the purchase on hold.

“We have it on the depreciation schedule, but with the economy and all that, we chose not to do it this year. We’ll revisit it next year,” said board president Bear May.

The 34-year-old tanker looks fresh and is only on the road about 1,000 miles a year. It’s garage-kept and has all the maintenance records. It would be a dream vintage find if it weren’t such a specialty item, yet the department will be lucky to unload it.

The department has 10 trucks, said Dicks, including three tankers, two pumpers, two brush trucks (with one doubling as an extrication truck), two extrication/rescue trucks, and one support truck that serves as a command post. If they weren’t tucked away out of the elements in the heated bays at the station, it might look like a car lot.

Unfortunately, even if the vehicles were sitting out front with a for sale sign in the window, used equipment is a hard sell. In an effort to sell the department’s used tanker, district administrator Kenny Skalsky, the department’s only full-time employee, created a mailer and sent out more than a hundred of the flyers to prospective buyers. But there were no takers.

“There’s a ton of trucks for sale and nobody is buying,” May said.

The department often sells its used equipment to smaller departments with less cash, like those in Clark or Ten Sleep. The Powell district offers to help by selling the equipment for pennies on the dollar and even financing the purchases. Without interest from a local department, though, the only options left are selling equipment to freelance firefighting teams, local farmers looking for a water truck or someone willing to transform the trucks into a different type of tool.

Ten years ago the department purchased its “snozzle” truck for nearly $750,000. It’s still in great shape, but it won’t be long before the board is forced to go shopping. It takes a long time to save tax proceeds to afford the bigger trucks, and prices continue to rise for new models. And even at the high prices, there’s a waiting list of a year or longer.

“We’ve got a great fleet of trucks out here, one of the best,” May said. “I’m proud of what we have. We can go anywhere and do anything; we can go anywhere. And we take good care of them.”

Tax dollars are used to buy all the equipment, from the bunkers the volunteers wear to the hoses and the fleet. In the fiscal year that began July 1 and runs through June 30, 2022, Park County Fire District 1 expects to receive $503,322 in property taxes to help support a $600,2000 budget.

There’s a large list of expenses that might not be obvious. For instance, the department spent more than $20,000 on a new thermal imager this year. The equipment is an upgraded model allowing firefighters to find hotspots while fighting fires. 

Bunkers (firefighting clothing) always need to be replaced. Firefighters finally were outfitted with lightweight wildland fire suits recently, allowing crew members to work in the heat of summer.

“Traditional bunkers are about 75 pounds,” May said. “When we’re out there fighting wildland fires and it’s 100 degrees, the new gear will keep the guys from getting heat stroke.”

There are also requirements for periodic testing of equipment — everything from hoses and tips to the air used to fill self-contained breathing apparatus.

“We drop the pump on every truck, we test every hose,” May said. “Just for our air, it cost us quite a bit. Every quarter, it’s quite a bit of money to have somebody come in and test the air that we put in our air bottles.”

Two years ago the department was retrofitted with a sprinkler system and fire alarms after decades of going without. A blaze similar to the one that destroyed a large chunk of the Powell school district’s bus barn last year could devastate fire response in the Powell area, May said.

The board has fought hard to keep the fleet in shape, and wants to ensure firefighters have the safest equipment available.

“We’ll do whatever it takes to take care of these guys because they’re volunteers, you know, we want them to have the best stuff,” May said. “Every one of the board members has their backs.”

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Montana’s Richard Spring Fire Burning Near Wyoming Border

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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

A wildfire that has already burned 165,000 acres in southern Montana continues to force evacuations in some areas as it threatens homes and businesses.

The Richard Spring Fire was identified on August 8, about 10 miles southwest of Colstrip, Montana.

The town of Lame Deer, Montana, about 80 miles north of Sheridan, was evacuated Wednesday evening due to the ferocity of the blaze. Law enforcement agencies had previously evacuated the communities of Ashland, Muddy Cluster, and Rosebud Cut Across.

According to Rosebud County, Montana, Sheriff Alan Fulton, fire crews Thursday were working between Ashland and Lame Deer, because that section of U.S. Highway 212 was breached by the fire Wednesday evening. It is closed until further notice.

Firefighters have been unable to construct containment lines around any part of the fire.

The Red Cross has set up an evacuation shelter at the Northern Cheyenne Tribal School in Busby, as well as a Crow Nation and Northern Cheyenne Nation partner shelter in the town of Crow Agency.

Rod Dresbach, a spokesperson for the fire management team, said a number of homes have been threatened by the fire in the Highway 212 corridor. So far, fewer than 20 structures have been lost to the blaze, but they were all secondary buildings.

“The problem has been the wind,” Dresbach reported in a Facebook post. “The wind has been our enemy since day one of this fire.”

As of 6 a.m. on Thursday, the Northern Rockies Incident Management Team 3 assumed command of the Richard Spring and Lame Deer fires. The Lame Deer Fire is significantly smaller, at less than 4,000 acres, and started two days after the Richard Spring Fire — but fire managers anticipate it will merge with the Richard Spring Fire soon.

According to InciWeb, the fire’s behavior is extreme, and is burning mainly in brush, short grass, and timber. The current weather conditions, high winds and low relative humidity, combined with high temperatures are expected to continue, encouraging the fire’s continued spread.

The blaze has affected power in the region, as well. The Tongue River Electric Cooperative in Ashland reported numerous electric lines have fallen due to the fire and warned residents that many of those fallen lines could be “hot.”

But communities are banding together to provide assistance to those displaced by the fire.

The City of Colstrip is offering free potable water; Talen Energy has set up a staging area at the Moose Lodge in Colstrip there to provide free meals and bags of ice. 

And the Colstrip Parks and Recreation Department is open for free showers, as well as free daily use for those in communities affected by the fires.

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