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Wildland Firefighters In Wyoming And The West Harder to Come By

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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

Wildfires are becoming more of a priority for forest managers. 

Even this early in the year, fires are raging out of control in several parts of the country – Texas and Colorado are scenes of devastation as wildland firefighters work to protect lives and property.

But those firefighters are harder to come by these days. 

Donna Nemeth, regional press officer for the National Forest Service’s Rocky Mountain Region, said the Forest Service is seeing a decrease in applicants for wildland firefighters.

“We are aggressively working to hire and create incentives for applicants for the 2022 fire year, and the efforts are ongoing,” she told Cowboy State Daily. 

Being a wildland firefighter isn’t an easy job, according to Sam Wilde, Fire Marshal for Park County Fire District No. 2 in Cody. Wilde spent several years doing seasonal work as a wildland firefighter, being sent to help fight fires around the country.

“You’re required to commit to a 14-day work assignment and it’s not unusual that you could be working as many up to 14 to 16 hours per day in an environment that you can imagine can be very, very trying,” Wilde said.

“I mean, it’s hard work. A lot of these guys are digging hand lines, they are hauling hoses, and doing the hard work that it takes to fight a fire. And they’re doing that 15, 16 hours a day and then sleeping in a tent at night. And when there’s a lot of fires going around the country, it’s not unusual to get extended out to a 21-day assignment.”

Last year, nearly 59,000 wildfires burned more than 7.1 million acres across the country, according to the U.S. Department of the Interior. The nation was at a heightened preparedness level for a record 99 consecutive days in 2021, which meant longer stretches of work for firefighters already doing demanding – and dangerous – jobs. 

According to a survey hosted by Grassroots Wildland Firefighters, an advocacy group for the nation’s estimated 10,000 firefighters and their families, 73 percent of more than 1,800 people surveyed said they were regularly worried about the possibility of accidents.

That possibility became very real for the family of Cody firefighter Tim Hart, who died from injuries sustained in a parachute landing near a fire in New Mexico last June. 

Those dangers, as well as low pay for federal employees (compared to those who work for private organizations), are among the reasons the U.S. Forest Service is considering changes to the pay and benefits package for wildland firefighters.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, wrote in an opinion piece in the Los Angeles Times in August that private organizations such as Cal Fire in California were paying more than $66,000 per year for entry-level employees; the Forest Service’s pay for a similar position was just over $28,000 per year.

In response to these inequities, the administration of President Joe Biden, in its budget proposal submitted just this week, includes a significant increase in funding for the Department of the Interior’s Wildland Fire Management Program. 

And a bill introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives in October proposes to raise base pay for firefighters to at least $36,163, with recruitment and retention bonuses, a housing allowance and guaranteed hazardous duty pay. The bill title honors the Cody firefighter lost last year – it’s been named the “Tim Hart Wildland Firefighter Classification and Pay Parity Act.” 

Wilde pointed out that firefighters can make good money, even though the hourly wage may be what some consider low.

“If you looked at an hourly rate it may not seem like they get paid a lot,” Wilde said. “But where the pay really comes in, and especially for the federal guys when you’re working 16 hour shifts, basically half your day is overtime, because they get overtime after anything over eight hours. Plus they don’t have any expenditures, we’re feeding them in camp and so they’re not spending any money. So when you go two weeks straight, you can imagine how many hours that adds up to.”

Nemeth said the Forest Service is in the process of another centralized hiring event, an effort to fill vacant permanent positions. She explained that the agency is working to address the rising wildfire “crisis” – the steep increase in the number, and devastating impact, of wildfires around the country in recent years.

In a memo to fire agencies around the country this week, Office of Wildland Fire Director Jeff Rupert pointed out that “climate change is propelling more frequent, extreme wildland fires that endanger lives, communities, and landscapes across the country.” 

“The President’s budget request for wildland fire management takes meaningful steps to adapt to these challenges by transitioning to a year-round firefighting workforce and expanding efforts to restore fire-adapted ecosystems,” Rupert wrote.  

The Forest Service has launched a 10-year plan to address the wildfire crisis. The strategy combines major congressional funding with scientific research and planning to create a national effort that will increase forest health measures over the next decade.

“The recently released ‘Confronting the Wildfire Crisis’ strategy will create healthier, more resilient landscapes as help to protect communities from the threat of wildfire,” said Nemeth, who pointed out that the plan prioritizes the well-being of the people who fight the fires.

“The Forest Service is committed to building a stable, professional, more permanent wildland firefighting workforce,” she said, “as well as programs that focus on mental health, resilience, and wellbeing.” 

Wilde said that for him, the benefits of being a wildland firefighter far outweigh the downsides.

“As many things that I can talk to you about how hard it is, I can tell you just as many of these things that’s rewarding about it,” he said. “When you join the fire service, and especially in the wildland fire world, you get to meet people that you’re working with and basically living with for a period of time, and they become like family. I mean, I have so many people that I consider my brothers and sisters that I’ve worked with on numerous different fires, and it really is just a family type environment.”

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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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Don Day: Smoke Hanging Over Wyoming Will Likely Be Around For More Than A Week

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

The smoke currently hanging over Wyoming will likely be around for more than a week, according to meteorologist Don Day.

Day told Cowboy State Daily on Monday the smoke the state has been seeing over the last few days is coming from wildfires in California and Oregon and will likely be around for another week to 10 days.

“This time of year, we have very weak winds aloft and the jetstream winds are up in Canada,” Day explained. “So when there’s a fire, the smoke spreads out and there’s very little wind to push it away quickly, so it’s kind of like a stagnant air mass.”

The 500,000-acre Dixie Fire, which is causing a good portion of the smoke in the area, has been burning in California for nearly one month and is only 21% contained.

Day said for the smoke to clear, the fire needs to be either reduced or contained and/or wind speeds need to pick up.

“The bad news is for the next week, I don’t see a real significant change in the upper level winds, nor do I see any significant change in the ability for them to get those northern California fires under control,” he said.

According to the Wyoming Air Quality Division, the smoke across most of the state could have a “moderate” impact on the health of residents. At such levels, people who are unusually sensitive to air contamination shoujld consider avoiding prolonged or heavy exertion.

However, the Kemmerer area’s air quality was considered unhealthy for sensitive groups, meaning that people with heart or lung disease, older adults and children should avoid prolonged or heavy exertion.

Day said a person’s reaction to the smoke will depend on his or her immune system, adding he knows of some people who have complained of allergies caused by the smoke.

Some people have also reported smelling smoke, which Day attributed to wild grassfires burning in Wyoming and Nebraska, which also add to the smoke in the air from the wildfires.

According to fire tracking website Inciweb, three fires burning in Wyoming were large enough to be tracked as of Monday, ranging from a 96-acre fire in the Bridger-Teton National Forest to the a 1,258-acre fire in the Bighorn National Forest. Inciweb does not include small grass fires or other incidents of that nature.

“Eventually the smoke will go away,” Day said.

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Coal Seam Fire In Campbell County Contained At Under 5,300 Acres

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By Jennifer Kocher, Cowboy State Daily

A 5,300-acre fire in western Campbell County that ignited from a coal seam was 50% contained as of Saturday morning.

At its peak, 120 firefighters from various federal and county agencies battled the flames that crossed over to burn in Johnson and Sheridan counties as well as Campbell.

The fire began Monday afternoon on U.S. Bureau of Land Management, state and private lands in Campbell, Johnson and Sheridan Counties. 

No structures or homes have been damaged and the fire burning in rural, rugged terrain has forced no evacuations or road closures.

As of Saturday morning, there were 79 people onsite managing the fire, assisted by a bulldozer, five fire engines and other assets. Most efforts Saturday were expected to focus on holding the fire’s containment line and patrolling for any hot spots, according to a news release from Melanie Wilmer, the fire’s informational officer.

Temperatures Saturday were expected to be in the high 80s with south winds up to 25 mph and isolated thunderstorms possibly in the afternoon. 

Coal seam fires are a natural burning of an outcrop of coal or an underground coal seam, according to Global Forest Watch, and can be ignited by lightning, wildfire, or low temperature oxidation and can burn for many years.

Most of the time they don’t present any issues, but if they reach the surface, they can cause fires. 

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Deer Creek 2 Fire In Northeast Wyo Grows To More Than 5,000 Acres

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By Jennifer Kocher, Cowboy State Daily

Almost 100 firefighters from several federal, state and county fire agencies continued to battle the Deer Creek 2 fire burning in three northeastern Wyoming counties Wednesday, completing a containment line around 15% of the 5,295-acre blaze.

The fire ignited by a burning coal seam in western Campbell County on Monday afternoon has since spread into Johnson and Sheridan counties, according to Melanie Wilmer, emergency response coordinator assigned to the fire. 

Moisture and cooler temperatures are aided firefighters’ efforts, even though the fire grew by more than 2,000 acres from Wednesday to Thursday.

The fire burning in grass, juniper and ponderosa pine in rugged, remote terrain. Precipitation from overnight showers helped mitigate the spread of flames, according to a post on the Dry Creek 2 Fire Facebook page, though muddy conditions posed new challenges in the area of the fire, most of which cannot be accessed by fire engines.

According to the post, efforts Thursday were to focus on monitoring the fire activity in two areas in an attempt to keep the fire contained within the present containment lines until the fire intensity is significantly reduced to the unburned side of the line. 

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Almost 120 Firefighters Battle Deer Creek 2 Fire In Campbell County

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By Jennifer Kocher, Cowboy State Daily

Almost 120 firefighters from multiple agencies were battling a 3,000-acre fire burning in three counties of northeast Wyoming on Wednesday.

Rough terrain, wind and unseasonably warm temperatures continued to hinder the efforts of firefighters to contain the Deer Creek 2 fire centered in western Campbell County.

The fire is burning 30 miles west of Gillette, but has crossed into Johnson and Sheridan counties. Officials believe it was started Monday by a burning coal seam that surfaced and began burning dry fuel, according to Melanie Wilmer, emergency response coordinator assigned to the fire. 

Given the remote location of the fire and difficult terrain, the fire has been labeled a type-3 incident, meaning it has surpassed the resources of the Campbell County Fire Department, allowing for other agencies to help.

Campbell County is being assisted by firefighters from Sheridan and Johnson counties, as well as the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.

As of Wednesday afternoon, Wilmer said firefighters on the scene were being aided by bulldozers, fire engines, helicopters and several tractors equipped with blades.

The terrain is mostly sage, juniper and grass and is in a desolate area where no structures are threatened or roads closed. Campbell County is currently under a heat advisory with temperatures expected to reach the high 90s.

The area is also under an air quality alert.

However, the air quality alert is the result of smoke in the skies over Campbell County from fires on the West Coast, Wilmer said, not the Deer Creek 2 fire.

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Two Major Wildfires Burning In Western Wyoming, Big Horn Mountains

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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

Smoke and haze – that’s been the rule for the skies of western Wyoming for the last week.

According to weather officials, most of the smoke is coming from wildfires in California, Oregon and Washington.

However, two fires large enough to be listed on the national InciWeb database are burning in Wyoming.

The Shale Creek fire in the Bridger-Teton National Forest, involving about 189 acres, was first reported July 16 and is expected to be fully contained by Saturday.

The fire, burning in remote and rugged terrain east of the Hams Fork River, has forced the closure of some access trails and forest roads by Bridger-Teton National Forest officials.

The Crater Ridge Fire, however, continued to grow in a remote area of the Bighorn National Forest, covering 564 acres as of Sunday with no containment of the flames reported.

The lightning-caused Crater Ridge Fire is located in an area heavily used for recreation. Numerous travel trailers are located in the area, which is about 30 miles northeast of Lovell.

The U.S. Forest Service closed much of the Bighorn National Forest north of Wyoming Highway 14 and east of the Big Horn-Sheridan county line.

Firefighting officials leadership are making long-term plans for full suppression of the Crater Ridge fire. Existing hazards, including difficult access, heavy fuels and steep terrain, are preventing fire personnel from working directly along the fire’s edge. 

In addition to the two large events, there have been other, smaller fires reported on the Shoshone National Forest in the past week, according to Kristie Salzmann, spokesperson for the agency.

“There were a few one-tenth acre fires on the Shoshone,” she told Cowboy State Daily, “But our firefighters were able to quickly contain them; so they did not meet the threshold of being added to Inciweb.”

One of the three smaller fires was discovered on Monday, July 19, west of Meeteetse approximately one-half mile from the Timber Creek Ranger Station on the Greybull Ranger District of the Shoshone National Forest.

A second fire was caused by a lightning strike in the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness Area on the Clarks Fork Ranger District, one-half mile east of Willow Park and north of the Pilot Creek gravel pit. It was reported on July 21.

Another fire reported on July 21 was in the Brent Creek area on the Wind River Ranger District. 

“Responding firefighters hiked into the Tappan Creek area to find a single tree had been ignited by lightning,” said Wind River District Ranger Jeff von Kienast. “Their quick actions to contain the fire kept it from growing any larger in our dry conditions.”

Acting Shoshone National Forest Fire Management Officer Clint Dawson urged residents and visitors to use extreme caution. “Everyone who is spending time on public lands this summer should continue to do everything they can to lessen the chances of fires.”

Shoshone National Forest Supervisor Lisa Timchak echoed that warning.

“We anticipate this summer to be a long one for our firefighters and are thankful that our understanding public is helping keep human-caused fires to a minimum.”

Stage 1 Fire Restrictions have been implemented across the entire Shoshone National Forest. 

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Dry Fork Fire 40% Contained As Firefighters Battle Blaze In Campbell County

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By Jen Kocher, Cowboy State Daily

More than 80 firefighters on Tuesday continued to battle a 3,200-acre forest fire burning in the Thunder Basin National Grassland in northeastern Campbell County. 

As of Tuesday morning, the Dry Fork fire was 40% contained, according to Campbell County Fire Department Captain Sam Clikeman.

Campbell County has beeen hit hard by drought and riddled with grassfires that have kept firefighters hopping throughout the summer. The latest is the Dry Fork Fire, which started Sunday.

Authorities issued a “red flag” warning on Monday in the face of continued dry, hot weather expected to boost the threat of fire even further.

As of Tuesday, no homes had been lost to the Dry Fork Fire, Clikeman said, and firefighters had established a bulldozer and mechanical barrier around 90% of the fire. 

“That’s the big thing,” he said.

The cause of the fire is still under investigation. 

Area rancher Acacia Acord and husband Shawn has been helping battle the blaze since it began Sunday late afternoon near their ranch 35 miles north of Gillette. 

“We were on it from 6 p.m. Sunday night until midnight and then again yesterday,” she said. “It barely came over on us, just a few feet but burned up a lot of our neighbors. It was hot and fast, a very nasty fire.” 

As of Tuesday, firefighters were on scene from the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Forest Service and state forestry division, assisted by firefighters from Kansas and Colorado. 

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Wyoming Wildland Firefighters Put Themselves In Danger Every Year

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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

It’s a hot, dry summer – and the risk for wildfires is extremely high here in Wyoming. 

And in Wyoming, as in other western states, thousands of wildland firefighters put themselves in harm’s way every year to battle the these unpredictable and dangerous fires.

Last month, the death of Cody firefighter Tim Hart reminded residents of the dangers of those wildland fires. 

Sam Wilde, marshal for Park County Fire District No. 1, said most of the firefighters he has known in his wildland firefighting career of almost 20 years have found themselves in dangerous situations at one time or another.

“It’s hard to talk to any wildland fire fighter that probably hasn’t been in a situation where they either got lucky or fortunate or just made the right decisions,” Wilde notes. “And you know, our number one priority on any wildland fire is safety.”

According to information compiled by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, over 400 on-duty fatalities occurred among wildland firefighters between 2000 and 2019. Common hazards faced on the fire line include burnovers and entrapments, heat-related injuries, smoke inhalation, vehicle-related injuries, including aircraft, and trips and falls.

Sadly, Park County is all too familiar with the tragedy that can strike with a wildland fire.

In addition to the loss this year of Hart, who died on a wildland firefighting mission in New Mexico, Park County was the location of one of the biggest firefighting tragedies in U.S. history, the Blackwater Fire between Cody and Yellowstone in 1937. 

Fifteen firefighters were killed in the fire 35 miles west of Cody, and another 38 were injured. As firefighters battled the lightning-caused blaze, it generated spot fires that created a firestorm, trapping the firefighters.

Analysis of that event led to the introduction of the nation’s smokejumper program, which Hart belonged to at the time of his death.

According to Wilde, the loss of a firefighter affects much more than the immediate family and team.

“The firefighting community as a whole is a big family,” he said. “So, anytime there’s a loss, that kind of hits everyone hard.”

According to the National Weather Service, there are currently six active fires in western Wyoming* and with conditions optimal for runaway blazes this summer, the entire firefighting community is preparing for a busy fire season.

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Firefighters Battle Lightning-Caused Fire In Drought-Stricken Campbell County

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By Jennifer Kocher, Cowboy State Daily

Firefighters in drought-stricken Campbell County continued Tuesday to battle a lightning-caused wildfire that was ignited Monday.

About 70 firefighters were busy Tuesday battling the 150-acre Raccoon Ridge Fire in southern Campbell County, one of several wildfires that began during the Fourth of July holiday.

As of Tuesday morning, the fire was just around 25% contained, according Kate Eischeid, batallion chief for the Campbell County Fire Department.

Eischeid said crews from her department, assisted by firefighters from Johnson County, the U.S. Forest Service and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management battled the blaze through the night.

Also present to help were single-engine air tankers that dropped fire retardant on the flames.

The rapidly spreading fire threatened several nearby residences, prompting some evacuations on Monday, although Eischeid said that to her knowledge as of Tuesday, the homeowners have since returned home and the area is no longer under threat. The fire is being pushed by brisk winds in the area already hit hard by dry conditions.

Before the Raccoon Ridge Fire broke out, CCFD had been working around the clock to extinguish two other grassfires in the northern end of the county: the Beason Fire near the Montana border and the Wild Horse Creek Fire, which was contained after burning almost 1,000 acres.

A small amount of rain fell on the area of the Raccoon Ridge Fire Monday, but Eischeid said not enough moisture fell to halt the spread of the flames.

“It wasn’t enough rain to be sufficient,” she said, “but we’ll take what we can get.”

Fire officials knew a difficult fire season was coming, Eischeid said, given the drought conditions and the relatively mild winter and spring. 

“This comes in cycles,” she said. “We assumed that this is where we would be at this point and we are.”

At this point, rain will do very little to help prevent further fires, Eischeid added, given that grasses already gone to seed and are dormant, and more rain will just going to create mud.

Eischeid urged residents to obey current fire restrictions within the county, noting that at least two grassfires have been tied to illegal fireworks or fires.

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Northwest Wyo Fire Officials Urge Residents To Avoid Fireworks

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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

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.”

Parker agreed. 

“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!”

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Fire Restrictions Take Effect As Fourth Nears

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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

It’s getting a little warm out there.

And warm, in Wyoming’s summers, generally equals “dry” — which means that federal land managers are cautioning people to use caution when enjoying the outdoors during the upcoming holiday weekend.

In western Wyoming, the Shoshone National Forest implemented forest-wide “Stage 1” Fire Restrictions on June 25. 

These restrictions allow campfires only in permanent fire rings that are installed and maintained by the U.S. Forest Service or U.S. Bureau of Land Management at developed recreation sites. The use of personal, portable fire pits and rings is banned for the time being.

The same restrictions are in place for public lands in at least 10 of Wyoming’s 23 counties: Campbell, Converse, Crook, Goshen, Johnson, Natrona, Niobrara, Platte, Sheridan and Weston.

The restrictions in Shoshone National Forest were adopted after officials measured moisture in vegetation and reviewed predicted weather conditions and fire activity in the region, according to forest Supervisor Lisa Timchak.

“With increasing fire danger, we are implementing these restrictions to protect public health and safety,” she said. “These fire restrictions will remain in place on the entirety of the Shoshone National Forest until further notice. Our fire managers will continue to monitor conditions and if they improve, we will reassess the restrictions.”

Of course, fireworks are a specific no-no any time of the year on federal lands, something to remember as the Fourth of July nears.

Violators of the rule can receive an expensive Independence Day present — a fine of up to $5,000 for an individual or $10,000 for an organization, along with possible jail sentences.

Fuses, blasting caps, rockets, exploding targets, tracers and incendiary ammunition are also banned in any area under Stage 1 Fire Restrictions.

Other rules for areas under Stage 1 restrictions include a ban on smoking outside, unless the smoker is in a cleared area at least 3 feet in diameter. Chainsaws can only be operated if equipped with a spark arrestor and if a fire extinguisher is nearby. Welding is prohibited in an area that is not cleared for at least 10 feet around.

Almost 90% of all wildfires on public lands are started by humans. Anyone negligently or willfully starting a wildland fire could be held responsible for the costs of that fire.

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Authorities Arrest Bridger Man, Allege He Started Robertson Draw Fire

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By Mark Davis, Powell Tribune

A Bridger, Montana, man was arrested Wednesday on allegations that he started the 28,600-acre Robertson Draw Fire while off-trail on his motorcycle.

John Lightburn, 55, faces felony and misdemeanor counts of negligent arson which allege he put people’s lives and property in danger by “purposely or knowingly” starting the wildfire. A misdemeanor count of criminal mischief alleges that Lightburn operated his motorcycle in an area of the Custer Gallatin National Forest that’s closed to motorized vehicles and damaged public lands.

According to charging documents from Carbon County Attorney Alex Nixon, Lightburn had been riding his motorbike on the morning of June 13 when the vehicle became flooded. As he tried to fix the cycle, Lightburn reportedly spilled gas “all over.” A subsequent attempt to see if he was getting a spark from his sparkplug set the nearby gasoline and surrounding vegetation ablaze, charging documents say.

Amid the hot, dry conditions, the Robertson Draw Fire quickly spread over the next few days, threatening the towns of Red Lodge and Bearcreek and burning 21 structures — including at least eight homes. Crews have been on scene battling the wildland fire, which has consumed a large area between Line Creek, north of Clark, to Mount Maurice, just west of Red Lodge.

Nixon said the fire’s rapid growth on June 15 “created dangerous conditions for both firefighters and local residents.” The prosecutor said that at least one law enforcement officer “was almost overtaken by the fire” while helping to evacuate residents and escorting them through the flame front.

“Damage to public and private property and the associated firefighting efforts, which are ongoing, have caused loss in the millions of dollars,” Nixon wrote.

According to what Lightburn told authorities, the fire started around 10 a.m. on June 13. It was reported to authorities around 2:30 p.m. and Lightburn was reportedly seen walking out of the fire area with burns around 4:30 p.m.

He was picked up by a retired investigator and delivered to U.S. Forest Service Law Enforcement Officer Katrina Haworth, who was responding to the scene after receiving reports of the fire.

Lightburn reported burning his foot in an attempt to extinguish the fire. However, Haworth did not observe any efforts to extinguish the fire while investigating the scene, though she did find Lightburn’s burned motorcycle and a few tools.

As of Wednesday evening, Lightburn was being held at the Gallatin County Detention Center, with bond set at $7,500.

(CJ Baker contributed reporting.)

Wyoming Already Seeing ‘Pretty Heavy’ Wildfire Activity

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By Elyse Kelly, The Center Square

As summer heats up in July and August, Wyoming’s wildfire season is likely to creep above average, although recent hot and dry weather has already stoked fires.

Many parts of the state continue in drought, some of it severe. The state’s predictive services are forecasting June fire levels to be average, trending to higher-than-normal levels later in the summer, according to Wyoming state forester Bill Crapser. 

It’s hard to even tell what normal is anymore, Crapser added.

“We’ve had pretty heavy fire activity for this early in June,” he told The Center Square. “It’s hard to say what’s average anymore, but I think we’re going to have an above-average fire season this year.”

Drought conditions are expected to continue with higher than normal temperatures and lower than normal precipitation across most of the state, according to Crapser. The western and northern parts of the state are likely to be the hardest hit, he added.

The state is preparing by adding two single-engine air tankers to be available to support counties along with heli-vac operations. Federal agencies have added surge resources as well.

“Right now in the state, even with the activity we’ve got, we have more federal heavy helicopters, that sort of thing, than we would have in a normal year right now,” he said.

Approximately 84% of fires in Wyoming last year were caused by humans, Crapser said, and he thinks it strictly because the state is seeing more human activity. 

“We have a lot more people recreating, taking advantage of the national forests, taking advantage of BLM lands and other public lands in the state for recreation, so we’re seeing an increase in that,” he said. “We also, like every other place in the west, have seen an increase in people living out in the wildland/urban interface.”

Crapser urged residents and visitors to be careful.

“A lot of the human-caused fires run the gamut from unattended campfires to ricochets from recreational shooting and exploding targets to fireworks to safety chains from trailers dragging and starting fires, so all sorts of things, and trash burning — everything you can think of from a human-caused fire, we’re seeing more of them,” he said.

The state’s forest service works closely with counties to create firewise communities. Crapser said residents have a much better chance of keeping their homes safe if they prepare ahead of time to create defensible space around the perimeters.

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Robertson Draw Fire Growth Slows; Milder Weather Helping Firefighters

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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

After consuming over 21,000 acres of forest and grassland in three short days, the Robertson Draw Fire north of Park County has slowed its pace somewhat in the last 24 hours, officials reported Thursday.

Custer-Gallatin National Forest officials say that the fire south of Red Lodge, Montana grew by about 3,000 acres overnight, thanks to milder weather conditions which allowed fire crews to work on the northeastern, eastern, and southeastern sides of the fire. 

According to the nation’s official wildfire website, inciweb.nwcg.gov, the fire was human-caused, although it is still under investigation.

Homes and campgrounds in the area of the fire are under an evacuation order, which means residents are urged to leave their homes immediately. All area residents have also been urged to have a household evacuation plan ready, and told to remain vigilant. 

An area closure is in place for the area south of Highway 212, east to the area along the Beartooth Front and south to the Wyoming border. 

There are currently 162 people actively fighting the blaze, according to forest officials. 

On Tuesday, crews and equipment worked to tie in bulldozed containment lines to burned areas that had cooled down in the rangeland grass areas.

Meanwhile, air tanker water and retardant drops were conducted along the northwest side of Mount Maurice to check fire spread.

The fire remained active along portions of the northern edge and in the timbered areas south of Mount Maurice. 

The Federal Aviation Administration has issued a Temporary Flight Restriction over the area of the Crooked Creek Fire to provide a safe environment so firefighting aircraft may operate in the area.

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Robertson Fire, Just Outside of Park County, Explodes to More Than 21,000 Acres

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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

The 2021 fire season has kicked off with a bang.

The Robertson Draw Fire has grown exponentially since it sparked just three days ago and, as of June 16, has exploded to 21,000 acres and is blanketing a good portion of northern Wyoming in smoke.

The blaze is consuming sage, timber and grassy areas along the front range of the Beartooth Mountains between Red Lodge, Montana and Clark, Wyoming.

According to InciWeb.gov evacuations and evacuation warnings are in place for multiple areas near the fire. Firefighters are focusing their efforts on structure protection and containment. 

Investigators have determined that the fire is human-caused, and was first reported around 3 p.m. on Sunday, June 13.

On Tuesday, June 15, the fire was reported at ten times the size from 24 hours previously, and the Custer-Gallatin National Forest drew upon resources including handcrews, engines, helicopters, a rappel crew, and support personnel. 

Air tankers continue supporting the incident, and a Type 2 Incident Management Team took command of the fire Wednesday.

An area closure is in place for the region south of Highway 212, east along the Beartooth Front and south to the Wyoming border. Evacuation orders are in place in the area south of Highway 308 from Red Lodge to Highway 72, and east of 72 to the Wyoming border.

All campgrounds, dispersed camping and trailheads from the Lake Fork north to Red Lodge including the dispersed camping area just west of the Lake Fork Road have also been ordered to evacuate.

Jim and Carol Ingram are residents in Clark, Wyoming, who have watched the fire grow from a small 40-acre blaze to its current status. On Wednesday morning, Jim Ingram said the smoke had obscured the foothills just west of their home.

“Yesterday afternoon the fire simply exploded and raced around the northeast corner of the mountains (Mt. Maurice) toward Red Lodge and then northeast toward Bear Creek and Belfry out into the plains,” Ingram said. “That’s a run of 14 miles in one afternoon.  Our hope is that the reversal of wind direction will push the fire lines back into already-burned areas where they’ll fizzle out.”

A shelter for evacuees has been set up at the Red Lodge Community Church, and the Red Cross has set up a shelter at the Veteran Memorial Civic Center in Red Lodge.

“I’m sure we’ll be fine, with plenty of notice if we are in any danger,” Ingram said. “Two of our neighbors across the road serve on the Clark fire/EMT team.”  

Continued record high temperatures and relative humidity in the single digits yesterday provided a challenging firefighting situation in rugged and inaccessible terrain, according to Forest Service officials.

That extreme fire behavior on Tuesday made it nearly impossible to fight the fire safely on the ground, and the high winds prevented aircraft from fighting the fire with retardant and water drops.  

But on Wednesday, humidity increased and temperatures lowered, which makes conditions more favorable for firefighting, officials noted. They expect to see more growth on the South and Eastern portions of the fire, but their priorities remain structure protection, building line around the fire and, as always, firefighter and public safety.

There is a virtual and in-person public meeting planned for June 16 at 7:00 p.m. at the Red Lodge, Montana High School.  The meeting will be live streamed on the Custer Gallatin National Forest’s Facebook page at CusterGallatinNationalForest.

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UW Professor: Global Warming Is Causing Larger Wildfires In Rocky Mountains

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A University of Wyoming professor has co-authored a new research paper stating that global warming is contributing to larger wildfires in the Rocky Mountain region.

“Global warming is causing larger fires in Rocky Mountain forests than have burned for thousands of years,” said Bryan Shuman, a professor in the UW Department of Geology and Geophysics. “The last time anything similar may have occurred was during a warm portion of the medieval era.”

Shuman was the main co-author of a paper, titled “Rocky Mountain Subalpine Forests Now Burning More Than Any Time in Recent Millennia,” that was published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, one of the world’s most prestigious science journals.

Shuman and his fellow researchers found that by November 2020, wildfires in southern Wyoming and northern Colorado were responsible for 72% of the total area burned in high-elevation subalpine forests since 1984.

In 2020, Colorado saw three of its largest wildfires on record.

The 2020 fire season saw distinctly higher rates of burning than in the last 2,000 years. The researchers used charcoal found in lake sediment records to assemble the fire history across the Rocky Mountains.

They discovered that since 2000, wildfires are burning nearly twice as much area, on average, compared to the last 2,000 years.

Over that 2,000-year period, fires in high-elevation, subalpine forests historically burned, on average, once every 230 years. In the 21st century, those fires now occur, on average, every 117 years.

Philip Higuera, a professor of fire ecology in the W.A. Franke College of Forestry and Conservation at the University of Montana, was the paper’s lead author. Kyra Wolf, a Ph.D. candidate in paleoecology and forest ecology at the University of Montana, also contributed to the paper.

Higuera and Shuman conceived and designed the study, while Higuera and Wolf analyzed the data to understand how current fire activity compared to wildfires of the past.

“As the 2020 fire season unfolded, we realized we already had a well-defined understanding of the fire history of many of the places burning, based on over 20 lake sediment records our teams had collected over the past 15 years,” Higuera says. “When the smoke settled, we thought ‘Wow, we may have witnessed something truly unprecedented here.’ So, we combined the existing records for the first time and compared them to recent fire activity. To our surprise, 2020 indeed pushed fire activity outside the range of variability these forests have experienced over at least the past two millennia.”

In the Rocky Mountains of northern Colorado and southern Wyoming, 840,000 acres have burned between 1984 and 2019. Another 660,000 acres burned in 2020.

Approximately 1.1 million acres burned in the past decade in the Colorado-Wyoming study area, even though only 400,000 acres, less than half as much, burned in the previous 25 years.

“The results indicate that, if fires continue to burn as often as they do now, every forest in the region could be burned by the beginning of the next century,” Shuman said. “In the past, it would have taken 200 to 300 years, if not longer, for fires to affect that much area.”

Subalpine forests are becoming less resilient and more susceptible to fires because the climate is warming, the researchers showed. Because humidity was extremely low, temperatures were high and storm events produced high winds, forest management had little impact on the 2020 fires.

The fires burned designated wilderness and national parks with limited fuel management, heavily managed areas with substantial timber removal and intact forest and areas with extensive beetle kill.

The extreme climate completely overrode all types of forest management, Shuman said.

“Snowfall in our high-elevation forests is lower now than in past decades, and summers are hotter. The changes convert trees into dry fuel, primed and ready to burn,” Shuman said. “With less snow now, the fire season lasts longer than before. When areas burn, the fires are bigger. They can burn longer. 

Continual warming will reinforce newly emerging fire activity in these high-elevation forests, with significant implications for ecosystems and society, according to the paper.

“It may sound dire, but it’s critical to remember that we have ample opportunities to limit or reverse climate warming, while still working to adapt to the increasing fire activity expected in upcoming decades,” Higuera said.

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Rising Humidity Helping Firefighters Battle 1,000-Acre Robinson Fire

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Milder temperatures and rising humidity are expected to help firefighters as they battle a wildfire covering more than 1,000 acres of land near Buffalo.

The Robinson Fire was started by lightning on June 8 and was pushed by high winds late last week into the Robinson Canyon, where it is currently burning.

Maribeth Pecotte, public information officer for the fire, told Cowboy State Daily on Tuesday that while temperatures were high in in the fire area, the firefighting team expected temperatures to be somewhat milder later in the week that would be coupled with some much-needed humidity in the air.

“People don’t always realize how just a little bit of humidity can be critical to stopping fire growth,” she said. “The humidity can really stem a fire and it just won’t climb any higher because the humidity is just smoldering it.”

While a wildfire is never an ideal situation, Pecotte noted that the Robinson Fire will actually be beneficial for the forest surrounding it.

Since this fire is burning around ponderosa pine trees, which have evolved to be around flames, it will mainly burn downed trees and common juniper trees in the area, which are quick to burn and can be a major fuel source for wildfires.

“Ponderosas like to grow in wide open spaces and aren’t densely packed, so this fire will allow the surrounding trees to grow more vigorously in the future,” Pecotte said. “The fire has been burning more on the surface than the (tops of the trees), so this is going to help open up that forest and clean it up some.”

She noted that ponderosa pines have a thick bark that can withstand long exposure to flames and that the trees’ lowest branches could sit as high as 30 to 50 feet off the ground, meaning the fire will not affect these trees compared to the damage done by something like the Mullen Fire.

The fire is located 20 miles south of Buffalo. Almost 350 personnel are working to combat the fire.

The Rocky Mountain Area Type 2 blue team is currently working to direct resources and provide information about the fire. Pecotte said one smokejumper working the fire reported positive results from firefighting efforts earlier in the day on Tuesday.

Threats for wildfires are high around the state because of extended dry conditions and high temperatures.

In an effort to prevent wildfires, Campbell County commissioners implemented a burn ban this week that prohibited outdoor burning and fireworks in certain areas, according to County 17.

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Officials Report 300% Increase In Fires Inside Bridger Teton Since Last Year

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By staff reports, Cowboy State Daily

Abandoned campfires on the Bridger-Teton National Forest are causing concern, especially in the warmer and drier weather that the Forest is already experiencing this month.

“People just aren’t thinking of fire safety at this time of year. It’s like folks assume because it’s spring they don’t need to worry about putting out their campfires,” says Forest Public Affairs Officer Mary Cernicek. “It is early but it only takes a couple of days of warm, dry weather to dry things out.”

As of June 2, there have been 21 abandoned campfires, most of which have occurred on the Bridger-Teton National Forest. Compared to 2020, there were seven abandoned fires by the same date that year. In 2019, there were three.

Of the abandoned campfires discovered, some have been left smoldering and too hot to touch, while others had escaped its fire ring.

Fire personnel are routinely dispatched to extinguish the fires or smoke sightings that have been reported while others are discovered by patrollers.

“Individuals found responsible could be cited with violation notices and possibly fined,” said Cernicek.

Persons found responsible for starting a fire that escapes, resulting in a wildfire may be held responsible for the cost of putting it out.

“All too often people don’t intend to start wildfires, yet they leave campfires unattended or don’t completely put them out. These campfires have the potential to become disastrous,” says Cernicek.

The reports of unattended campfires have fire managers reiterating a fire safety message for all Forest users. Although an area may appear green, the danger for fire still exists.

“Even though it looks green, the drought conditions have left the dead materials and trees susceptible to fire and we still need to be careful with campfires on the Forest,” said Cernicek. “We just want to remind visitors to Bridger-Teton to build their campfires in a safe spot, not to leave them unattended and to extinguish them completely before leaving the area.”

Always keep a bucket of water and a shovel nearby. When putting a campfire out, drown it with water, stir with a shovel and never leave a fire until it is cold to the touch.

To report an abandoned campfire or wildfire, call Teton Interagency Dispatch at (307) 739-3630 or 911.

Lightning Ignites Grass Fire North of Gillette, Burns 275 Acres

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A 273-acre grass fire in a small town north of Gillette over the weekend was caused by lightning, officials said Sunday.

On Saturday morning, Campbell County firefighters responded to a home in Weston for a timber fire. The fire involved about 3.7 square miles of private land.

Lightning from a passing storm the previous night caused the fire, which was fully contained as of Sunday night. Nearly 60 firefighters helped battle the fire, including firefighters from Campbell County, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management and Tatanka Hotshots, with assistance provided by the Wyoming State Forestry Division’s helicopter.

Landowners and volunteers were also on site all day Saturday to assist with firefighting efforts.

Firefighters remained on the scene Monday to ensure the fire was under control.

In late April, Wyoming State Forestry Division’s fire management officer told Cowboy State Daily that the state’s fire outlook for the 2021 season wasn’t good.

However, Anthony Schultz did offer the caveat that while the outlook seemed bad to start the spring and summer season, there was a possibility nature could change its course and provide a rainy summer.

“Around 2017 or 2018, we were looking to have a pretty active fire season, but we ended up getting a lot of rain into June and July, so the fire season was muted,” he said. “It wasn’t something heavily predicted, so we weren’t really expecting it.”

The fire season in Wyoming usually begins around June, but is at its most dangerous in July and August, Schultz said, with fire restrictions across the state usually being fully lifted by the fall.

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Wyoming Man Charged For Intentionally Starting Two Wildfires In Big Horn County

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A Wyoming man has been charged with intentionally starting two wildfires in Big Horn County almost three years ago.

Brandon Kenneth Nyberg is charged with unlawfully starting a fire and burning timber, trees and other fuels on U.S. Bureau of Land Management land. If convicted, he could spend up to one year in jail, serve one year of supervised release and pay a fine of up to $1,000.

According to documents filed in U.S. District Court in Casper, in July 2018, BLM Supervisory Ranger Brad Jones was working near the Terek Fire in Big Horn County when he was alerted to another fire in Manderson. While attempting to gain access to the Manderson fire, another fire on the same highway was reported.

Both fires were believed to be human-caused.

When Jones arrived in Manderson, he saw Nyberg and Sierra Brown with a water hose standing near a barn and house.

When the ranger interviewed him, Nyberg said he hadn’t seen much and he had been watching the fire in the distance when he noticed it burning in the field near his grandparents’ house. He said he didn’t see anyone in the area who could have started the fire, so he believed it was a spot fire caused by embers from the Terek Fire.

Nyberg denied starting either of the two smaller fires.

Brown said she was sleeping when Nyberg woke her and told her to turn on the water. She didn’t see anyone in the field who could have started the fires.

The next day, BLM Ranger Robert Lind was on the scene of the first smaller fire when he was approached by Nyberg on a bicycle. Lind asked Nyberg if he had any photos of the prior day’s fires, which Nyberg did, and he agreed to transfer photos to the ranger.

He repeated a similar story to Lind, that he and Brown returned home from a hike, she took a nap and he woke her when he noticed the fire in the area.

One week later, it was determined that the first fire was started on and burned 6 acres of BLM land, while the second fire was started on private property and spread to BLM land.

In May 2019, Nyberg was interviewed by police at his grandparents’ residence in Manderson. When confronted with evidence, he initially claimed he might have accidentally started the fires with a lit cigarette, but when pushed, he admitted to starting both fires with a lighter.

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Wyoming Fire Management Officer On 2021 Wildfire Risk: “It’s Not Looking Good”

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming’s wildfire outlook for the 2021 season is not a good one, according to the Wyoming State Forestry Division’s fire management officer.

However, Anthony Schultz did offer the caveat that while the outlook may seem bad now, there is a possibility nature could change its course and provide a rainy summer.

“Around 2017 or 2018, we were looking to have a pretty active fire season, but we ended up getting a lot of rain into June and July, so the fire season was muted,” Schultz told Cowboy State Daily on Thursday. “It wasn’t something heavily predicted, so we weren’t really expecting it.”

So although nature is a fickle beast and nothing about the coming summer season is certain,, Schultz said Wyoming and numerous other western states are trending toward having a drier, warmer fire season than normal, meaning there could be wildfires spreading throughout the state this summer.

Schultz noted that South Dakota, in particular, has already been seeing wildfires this year, such as the Schroeder Fire that closed Mount Rushmore last month.

The fire season in Wyoming usually begins around June, but is at its most dangerous in July and August, Schultz said, with fire restrictions across the state usually being fully lifted by the fall.

He added that for Wyoming, the southwestern corner of the state and the northeastern portion (including Sundance and Newcastle) could very likely see wildfires this season.

“The northeastern portion of the state hasn’t had a major fire season since about 2016, so it’s due for one,” Schultz said.

He reminded visitors and residents of Wyoming to remember to practice certain fire safety rules, such as fully extinguishing campfires when leaving a site.

Additionally, keeping trees trimmed and firewood away from a home will help keep down fire risk at a person’s home, he said.

“Use common sense measures, keep your home in a general sense of order, observe good campfire practices, all of these things will reduce our wildfire risk,” he said.

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South Dakota Fire Grows In Size, But Also Containment

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

The Schroeder Fire in South Dakota might have grown in size somewhat on Thursday, but so did its containment rate.

The fire grew to 2,224 acres on Thursday, but its containment level also reached 86%, according to the fire tracking website InciWeb.

Nearly 220 people are working to combat the fire as of Friday, an increase from 170 who were working on fire management on Thursday.

The plans for Friday were to determine when the last evacuation orders could be lifted. A red flag warning is in effect until Friday evening, and officials warned against potential fire hazards during the Easter weekend.

“The safety record has been outstanding, but it is important to continue to stay engaged and maintain awareness of your surroundings,” fire incident commander Matt Spring said.

Crews also planned to focus on mop-up operations and patrolling the fire line, protecting structures and rehabilitating containment lines from firefighting efforts.

There is now only one aircraft being used to combat the fire.

Smoke and flames were expected to be visible on Friday as the fire continued to consume unburned fuels within the fire’s interior, but this was normal.

The cause of the fire is still under investigation.

The fire was discovered Monday and grew rapidly near a heavily populated area in the burn scar of the 1988 Westberry Fire. The fire is located about three miles from Rapid City, South Dakota.

South Dakota Gov. Krisi Noem has declared a state of emergency in the face of the fire. Around 400 to 500 homes in the area were evacuated.

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Schroeder Fire Grows Slightly, Now Only A Mile From Rapid City

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

The Schroeder wildfire in South Dakota has grown slightly, inching closer to Rapid City, but firefighters have a containment line around nearly half of the blaze.

The fire affected 2,200 acres but was at a 47% containment rate of as Thursday, three days after it was first discovered, according to fire tracking website InciWeb.

Around 170 people were fighting the fire, including the Rocky Mountain Blue Team, an emergency management team, according to spokesman Chris Zoller, who spoke during a Thursday morning briefing.

“The firefighters are getting a great handle on doing mop-up operations, they’re cleaning up fuels along the edge of the line, they’re putting water down where they have to,” Zoller said.

On Thursday, firefighters planned to continue protecting structures throughout the fire area and constructing and improving fire lines on the northern and southern edges of the fire perimeter, Zoller said.

Smoke and flames may be visible as the fire consumes unburned fuels within its interior, which is normal and expected.

However, red flag warnings were in effect in the area due to hot, dry and windy conditions. Wind gusts of 25 to 30 mph were expected Thursday.

Crews planned to watch for changing fire conditions as the wind shifted directions on Thursday.

The fuels in the area (timber and dead grass) are dry, which creates an ideal condition for rapid fire growth, Zoller said.

However, Zoller didn’t seem too worried about the red flag warning.

“We’re going to be nowhere near what we were Monday as far as the elevated fire danger,” he said. “We’re right in the very bottom of that red flag warning criteria.”

Officials warned people in the area to take extra care in order to prevent igniting a wildfire while recreating outdoors, such as avoiding parking over tall grasses, ensuring tools and vehicles are equipped with spark arresters and being careful with campfires and other ignition sources.

Mount Rushmore was closed to visitors on Tuesday and Wednesday, but reopened on Thursday. However, the Iron Mountain Road near the monument was closed to traffic on Thursday to allow firefighters to continue mop-up operations.

South Dakota Gov. Krisi Noem has declared a state of emergency in the face of the fire. Around 400 to 500 homes in the area were evacuated.

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Firefighters Combat South Dakota Wildfire

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A 2,100-acre wildfire burning west of Rapid City, South Dakota, is currently almost halfway contained, after being discovered just two days ago.

The Schroeder Fire was 47% contained as of Wednesday morning, according to fire tracking website InciWeb. Around 250 people were fighting the fire.

The containment rate has stayed the same for about 24 hours.

The fire started sometime Monday morning, however, its cause is still unknown.

On Wednesday, firefighters planned to focus on protecting structures throughout the fire area and constructing and improving fire lines on the northern and southern areas of the fire’s perimeter.

However, gusty winds of up to 29 miles per hour were expected to present a challenge for the day.

Overnight crews were to continue patrolling and monitoring fire activity around structures and private property.

Currently, six aircraft are being used to combat the fire by dropping fire retardant on the flames.

On Monday, the Pennington County, South Dakota, Sheriff’s Office confirmed at least one home and two pole barns had been lost in the fire. According to KOTA TV, around 400 to 500 homes have been evacuated.

South Dakota Gov. Krisi Noem has declared a state of emergency in the face of the fire.

Due to the smoke and fire, Mount Rushmore even closed to visitors both Tuesday and Wednesday.

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Last Day of National Elk Refuge Feeding Set For Monday

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By Tom Ninnemann, Cowboy State Daily

The National Elk Refuge will end its supplemental feed program for elk on Monday, about four days earlier than average and about two weeks earlier than closure dates in years with similar snowpack depths.

Refuge Biologist Eric Cole explained the early closure is part of the refuge’s “Step-Down Plan” adopted in 2019. The plan is aimed at modifying elk distribution so fewer elk winter on the National Elk Refuge and reducing wildlife disease transmission.

A major part of the plan is reducing the feed season length on the refuge.

“Because we know the relationship between daily snowpack depth on the south end of the National Elk Refuge and when we ended feeding in the past, we can use that relationship to estimate a feeding end date that is two weeks early,” Cole said.

Cole explained that based on current snow conditions at Refuge Headquarters, feeding would have typically continued until April 12.

In recent days there have been approximately 8,500 elk and 300 bison on feed at The Refuge.

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14-Year-Old Causes 4-Acre Grass Fire In Gillette; Comes Within 100 Yards From Houses

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By Ryan Lewallen, County 17

Firefighters were able to extinguish a four-acre grass fire Monday afternoon 100 yards from a series of houses and structures on Highway 14-16, fire authorities said Wednesday.

The fire was reportedly started by a 14-year-old juvenile around noon March 15, who is believed to have been playing with a lighter and paper outside a residence, according to Battalion Chief Bryan Borgialli with the Campbell County Fire Department (CCFD).

“He was doing something that he wasn’t supposed to be doing and wasn’t able to keep it under control,” Borgialli said March 17. “This was the result of a bad decision.”

It could have been worse. The recent incident consumed only grass but it could have been anything with conditions being as they are, according to Borgialli.

Things are drier than usual across Campbell County with the mild winter; any moisture the area may have received over the last few days could disappear at a moment’s notice should the weather improve, Borgialli said.

“It’s pretty sensitive out there,” he noted. “All the fuels are dead from last summer and are ready to burn.”

The area is in a shoulder season—that part of the year between the end of a dry summer and the beginning of a green spring—which means any fire could get out of control if residents are not careful, according to Borgialli.

Fires need to be attended to at all times, he said. Any plans to burn should be reported to the Campbell County Sheriff’s Office, which will notify the CCFD, before anything is ignited.

Residents need to report where they are burning, what they are burning, and how long they will be burning, Borgialli said.

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Western Voters Increasingly Concerned About Wildfires, Support Funding Conservation, Poll Finds

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By Derek Draplin, The Center Square

Voters across the Mountain West states are increasingly concerned about wildfires and continue to support funding conservation efforts, according to a survey of eight states.

Colorado College on Thursday released its State of the Rockies Project poll, which gauges voter opinion on public lands and conservation issues and policies in eight Western states: Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming.

“We are seeing strong voter concern for nature, which is translating into calls for bold action on public lands in the West,” said Colorado College Assistant Professor Katrina Miller-Stevens, the project’s director. “If federal and state policy leaders are looking for direction on public lands, the view from the West is clear.” 

The poll found that 61% of respondents are worried for the future of nature, compared to 36% who are hopeful. A large majority (91%) also agreed their state should still fund conservation despite budget concerns. 

When it comes to wildfires, which ravaged several states over the summer, 71% of respondents said wildfires are “more of a problem” than a decade ago. Of those voters, 42% attributed the wildfires to climate change and 40% attributed them to drought. 

The wildfire mitigation actions that voters most supported were the removal of brush and dead trees (94%) and the use of controlled burns (91%), the poll found.

On oil and gas development on public lands, 59% of respondents said development should be “strictly limited”; 14% said “stop all” development; and 25% said “expand” development.

In Colorado, 70% of voters preferred their representative in Congress “emphasize conservation and recreation on public lands over maximizing the amount of land available for responsible energy development.” That number compares to 65% of voters in New Mexico, and 47% of voters in Wyoming, a state with significant oil and gas development that takes place on public land. 

The opinion poll comes as the President Joe Biden has prioritized combating climate change during the first weeks of his administration. 

Biden rejoined the Paris Climate Accord, revoked the Keystone XL pipeline’s permit, and last week signed an executive order halting all new leases for oil and natural gas development on federal land. 

The federal lease moratorium drew criticism from states like Wyoming, which brought in $1.67 billion in revenue from the industry in 2019, and industry groups that said the move would kill jobs and hurt the country’s energy independence.

The poll, which is in its 11th edition, surveyed approximately 400 registered voters in each of the eight states, and was conducted between January 2-13, 2021. It was conducted by Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates, a Democratic polling firm, and New Bridge Strategy, a Republican firm.

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The Future Of Fires In Wyoming And The West

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By Mark Davis, Powell Tribune

Mark Giacoletto hasn’t been spending much time at home lately. His job with the Shoshone National Forest as fire management officer had him reassigned to massive fires in Colorado for much of the summer. He’s back home now, but it’s always possible that he could be packing his bags again. “We’re all at risk to be deployed nationally,” he said. But Giacoletto does know that after more than two decades on the job, fire seasons keep getting longer.

There are multiple active wildfires in Colorado, including the East Troublesome fire that burned 130,000 acres in one day and the neighboring Cameron Peak fire. They are the two largest wildfires in Colorado history.

“I’ve been right here in the thick of it,” Giacoletto said in a telephone interview last week.

Though it has snowed and the weather has slowed the fires, they are not out of the woods yet.

It’s November, long after wildfire season is typically over. The 2020 fire season has been devastating to many regions of the West, most notably in Colorado and California. Billions of dollars in property and dozens of lives have been lost.

Here in Wyoming the Mullen fire (38 miles west of Laramie) has burned nearly 177,000 acres and the Pilgrim Creek 1 fire in the Bridger-Teton National Forest burned about 500 acres. Earlier this year, the Lone Star Fire in Yellowstone National Park burned 4,123 acres in an area not far from Old Faithful.

According to the National Fire Information Center, 46,535 fires have burned more than 8.4 million acres this year — an area a little larger than the combined size of Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks and the Shoshone and Bridger-Teton national forests.

There have been 43 deaths reported this year in wildfires in the U.S., with more than 300 homes lost to the blazes in Colorado and more than 9,000 in California.

Giacoletto has seen the heartbreaking results from the raging wildfires during his career — neighborhoods destroyed, lives lost. “Our hearts go out to those folks,” he said.

The stories may seem distant to some, but not to Giacoletto. He and other employees, including from the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management, travel anywhere in the nation where firefighters are needed.

Giacoletto joined the Forest Service in 2003. What he sees as he works from one hotspot to another is fuel in the form of dead and dying trees infested with beetles, as they are reaching the end of their life cycle. He calls some areas “a sea of dead trees.” The forests of northwest Wyoming may not currently have tragic stories unfolding like those scorching large swaths across the West, but they have in the past and likely will again, Giacoletto cautions. “The common denominator that makes this possible is the amount of dead forest that we have.”

As winter snow arrives, the fire season will fade, and nobody can predict what 2021 will bring. But it begs the question: What is being done to prepare for future fires in forests surrounding the Big Horn Basin?

Making plans in the Shoshone

Fire managers at the Shoshone National Forest made plans in the early 2000s to prioritize portions of the forest that are adjacent to private property with lodges and homes and near infrastructure, Giacoletto said. They have been thinning trees in those areas to give firefighters a buffer when fires start in the backcountry. “We usually take a stand in the front country where we’ve done our fuel treatments,” Giacoletto said. “And we’ve been effective doing that.”

They also work with county, state and other federal agencies to coordinate plans. Every county has wildland fire protection plans completed, he said.

Education is also a big part of the process. Firefighters work with property owners in the forest, suggesting how to build and maintain properties to be resistant to fires, like keeping brush cleared, cleaning gutters and using metal or asphalt roofing. With winter conditions in place, Shoshone officials plan to burn slash piles across the forest. The piles are a result of timber sales, fuel reduction work and community “fire wise” projects worked on over the past years.

On the northern half of the Shoshone, piles are located in the areas of the Sugarloaf Timber Sale and Sunlight Basin on the Clarks Fork Ranger District. Additional piles are located near North Fork summer homes on the Wapiti Ranger District as well as in the Timber Creek and the Wood River areas on the Greybull Ranger District. Smoke generated from the burning piles may be visible at times in Crandall, Cody, Meeteetse, Lander and Dubois. The duration of the projects will depend upon the weather and may last anywhere from a few days to a few weeks, according to a press release from Kristie Salzmann, public affairs officer.

Cody Regional Health

The Bighorns and Yellowstone

In the Bighorn National Forest, it was an above average fire season with more than 20 fires. “Thankfully they all stayed small despite very dry fuel conditions,” said Jon Warder, Bighorn fire management officer.

Firefighters were deployed throughout the season to assist other fire suppression efforts. Forest officials are just now getting back 10 firefighters who worked fires in Colorado, but most of their fire personnel have already been laid off for the season.

Warder said Bighorn managers focus attention for reducing fuel near cabins, lodges and resorts and municipal watersheds. They rely on commercial timber sales and contracted hand thinning and piling. The forest is unique in that over 60% of the landscape is in roadless wilderness, he said, adding, “We typically schedule approximately 1,500 acres per year in prescribed burning to reduce fuels, but due to extreme conditions and the need to help out other fire suppression efforts, we did not conduct prescribed burning this year.”

In Yellowstone National Park, the tactics often emphasize point and zone protection over direct fire control, said John Cataldo, the park’s fire management officer. “That makes future fires here generally less problematic for those tasked with managing them,” he said.

In 1988, more than 100 square miles, or approximately half of the park, was involved in a large wildfire. The scars of the blaze can still be seen, especially on the east side, near Cody. Cataldo said the fire created a mosaic of fire scars that have helped to provide natural barriers to the spread of new fires. The fire suppression team works hard “within our budget” to prepare communities in the park for approaching wildfires. It has been a work in progress to create defensible space park-wide, especially in spaces near infrastructure.

“The maintenance of these fuels treatments will need to go on in perpetuity in order for them to be successful across future generations,” he said.

A warmer climate

Cataldo said there are many reasons for destructive wildfires, but he points to current conditions being compounded by a warmer, drier climate in already-arid western environments.

Climate change is, in part, responsible for longer fire seasons and greater economic costs, according to a paper written by William Matthew Jolly, a research ecologist at the U.S. Forest Service’s Rocky Mountain Research Station. Over the past 35 years his team found that fire seasons have lengthened across one quarter of Earth’s vegetated surface, extending it by a bit each year and adding up to a large change over the full study period. For example, the fire season in parts of the western United States is more than a month longer than they were 35 years ago. The authors attribute the longer seasons in the western United States to climate changes, including the timing of snowmelt, vapor pressure, and the timing of spring rains.

The cost is high, with annual fire suppression costs in the U.S. reaching more than $2 billion. In a recent paper, David Willms pointed to the high cost of increasingly longer fire seasons. “Including state and local expenses, lost property, lost lives and local economic impacts, the cost of wildland fires [this year] escalates to tens of billions of dollars per year.”

A former adviser for Gov. Matt Mead, Willms is now the Senior Director for Western Wildlife at the National Wildlife Federation. He concentrates his efforts on wildlife issues like migration corridors, endangered species policy, oil and gas policy and public lands. He points out that while billions are being spent suppressing fires, little is going to proactive solutions.

“Time is of the essence, and the time to act is now. People are losing their homes and dying. Local economies are being destroyed,” Willms wrote. “Water supplies are at risk. Billions of dollars are allocated to the problem every year to fund reactive activities, with only limited resources allocated to proactive ones.”

He said changing the future won’t be easy, but there is hope if action is taken now. Some of Willms’ ideas include identifying ways to treat invasive species, using prescribed fires, selective and subsidized timber harvests, reforestation, climate change solutions, strategic grazing, better interagency coordination, infrastructure protection, road decommissioning, improving timber markets, funding additional research and certain statutory and regulatory reforms. However, a critical component is greatly reducing the 84% of wildland fires that are human caused, Willms said, suggesting “innovative education, appropriate regulation and aggressive enforcement.”

“Contrary to the opinions espoused by some politicians, certain non-government organizations, and the members of the general public, today’s fires are not the result of a single factor. They are a result of climate change, forest management practices tied to fire suppression and a complicated statutory/regulatory framework, invasive species, natural drought cycles, human ignitions, changing timber markets …, and likely several other factors,” Willms wrote “Consequently, solutions for addressing wildland fire issues are multifaceted and complex. Done correctly, these solutions could create thousands of jobs, save billions of dollars and dozens of lives every year, protect watersheds, and leave a healthier landscape for our wildlife and future generations.”

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Cheyenne Frontier Days, Other Locals Orgs Work To Help Victims Of Colorado Wildfires

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A number of organizations in Cheyenne are working together to help people in Colorado who have been displaced by wildfires.

Currently, there are eight wildfires burning across the state, but the two affecting northern Colorado are the Cameron Peak Fire (which has recently been declared as the largest in the state’s history) and the East Troublesome Fire.

The East Troublesome Fire has only popped up within the last week, but on Thursday, it forced the evacuation of much of the town of Estes Park. More evacuation notices are expected coming, as the fire is only at 5% containment.

But Cheyenne organizations, including Cheyenne Frontier Days, are offering up their services and help to those in need.

CFD CEO Tom Hirsig told Cowboy State Daily that the rodeo organization is offering up its grounds to anyone who needs to store their horses or livestock because of evacuation.

“We have things we can offer these people, so why not do it?” Hirsig said. “It’s already devastating enough that these people might lose their homes, but these poor animals have got to be terrified.”

CFD even posted the notice to its Facebook page, letting anyone know they could call 307-778-7263 for more information.

The offer is not unprecedented for CFD, as Hirsig noted that the rodeo has always been willing to offer up its stalls or corrals to farmers, ranchers or a cowboy/girl in need, but he said the offers have never reached this scale.

Currently, no one from Colorado has had to bring their animals to Cheyenne just yet (thanks to many of the northern Colorado livestock boards, who have been helping in the interim), but Hirsig hopes that people will take advantage of the opportunity, should it be needed.

“Cheyenne Frontier Days was founded on helping our community, and our community is bigger than just Cheyenne,” he said. “I think many organizations get caught up chasing the almighty dollar, but this just shows that things can be taken away in an instant. It’s a time in our world where we can see the good in people.”

Visit Cheyenne has also partnered with many of the hotels in the city to offer heavily discounted rates to those displaced by the fires.

The organization currently has a list of hotels and their discounted rates for wildfire victims, which will be updated.

“We are all praying for your safety and Cheyenne is willing to help in any way we can,” Visit Cheyenne wrote in a tweet.

Some of the firefighters from Laramie County Fire District No. 2 have been traveling to Loveland to help staff the fire station and give their Colorado colleagues a much-needed break, according to 9News from Denver.

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Weekend Mullen Fire Work Pays Off On Slow Wednesday, Official Says

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

It was a slow Wednesday when it came to Mullen Fire activity, officials confirmed in an evening update.

While fire crews were concerned about the possible strong winds, operations manager John Wallace said that by mid-morning, precipitation fell on the fire, providing much-needed relief after weeks of toiling.

As of Wednesday evening, the fire has affected 176,371 acres and is at a 34% containment rate.

Since there was little fire activity, crews focused on cleanup efforts in the Ryan Park area, which Wallace believes crews will be moving out of by the end of the week.

However, just because the fire hasn’t grown doesn’t mean fire crews are done working.

“The area north of Albany…still has some heat on it, and we’re watching that area very closely,” Wallace said.

He added that crews are continuing to monitor to the Fox Park and Foxborough communities in the meantime. Fox Creek Road residents are also now allowed to return home, according to an update on fire tracking website InciWeb.

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Sunday PM Mullen Fire Update: Snowfall Keeps Fire At Bay

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily
Photo Credit: Kari Fleegel, Incident Meteorologist at NOAA

The predicted snowfall came as expected to a portion of southeast Wyoming on Sunday, providing much-needed relief for crews helping battle the Mullen Fire in Medicine Bow National Forest.

The fire barely made any headway at all on Sunday, according to operations manager John Wallace, who stated as much during a Facebook livestream update.

“Firefighters were still out there watching the structures, because we were still deeply concerned that the fire would move around before the snow started,” Wallace said in his Sunday evening update. “So once the snow did start and we saw that it wasn’t going to stop, we went ahead and pulled firefighters back out to the main roads.”

However, he doesn’t expect the fire to stay cool for long, adding that it will probably begin gaining traction again sometime Monday afternoon.

He did expect the containment rate to again increase in the next couple of days, though. As of Sunday evening, the fire is at a 25% containment rate and has affected 174,912 acres, according to fire tracking website InciWeb.

The biggest impact from the weather on Sunday was that gusty winds kept the fire crews from flying any aircraft, Wallace added.

The fire has not moved much at all over the weekend, with Wallace adding that it only grew by 500 acres total on Saturday.

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Friday AM Mullen Fire Update: Fire Now 18% Contained, Cool Weather On The Way

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

The Mullen Fire in Medicine Bow National Forest has grown slightly in the last day, but is now at an 18% containment rate.

According to a Facebook post on the Mullen Fire Information page, the fire has now affected 173,747 acres as of late Thursday night.

John Wallace, operations manager of the fire management team, said in a Facebook livestream Friday morning that he and other officials decided they would no longer put people on the ground in the northern area of the fire, which has been an issue for crews in recent days.

“We’re just not making any progress with it,” Wallace said. “There’s a lot of dead and down trees, there’s a lot of heavy fuels, and we’re just not able to accomplish anything in there.”

Instead, crews will fall back to the A Bar A Ranch area and monitor the French Creek Canyon, which the fire has to encounter before it will cause any damage to people or structures.

Wallace added that the new 4% containment was in the western part in the fire

Friday’s planned activities include firing operations in the northeast part of the fire and structure preparation in Centennial, across the Highway 130 corridor and in the Ryan Park community.

Cooler temperatures and more moisture moving into the area over the weekend will moderate fire activity and allow firefighters to move in closer and work more directly on the fire’s edges.

Meteorologist Don Day said in his Friday morning weather forecast that a strong cold front would be moving in Saturday and Sunday and although it will limit precipitation, it will still be helpful regarding the fire.

“It’s really hard to get excited that this will produce much moisture, but it will produce some,” he said.

It will also be cool and breezy Monday, with Day adding that although the weekend cold front won’t quite bring fall weather, it will set long-term changes into motion that Wyomingites will see in the latter half of the month.

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Thursday PM Mullen Fire Update: Fire Moves North, Dead Trees Adding Complications

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

The Mullen Fire in Medicine Bow National Forest continues to move north, albeit slowly, being hindered by cooler temperatures and higher humidities.

Officials gave an update on the fire during a Thursday night Facebook livestream.

Operations manager John Wallace said firefighters have been working in the northwest corner of the fire area to secure the perimeter, but have been hindered due to the roads being covered in dead Ponderosa lodgepole pine trees.

“There have been very difficult conditions in there and not a lot of success,” Wallace said. “So they’re going to start looking for other opportunities up to the north.”

Protection measures are being laid out in the Ryan Park area, with crews working on structure protection, although the fire was still about 10 miles away as of Thursday.

No update was given on the acreage during the livestream, but fire tracking website InciWeb reported 170,996 acres had been affected as of Thursday afternoon.

The fire has worked its way around Albany, so firefighters will focus suppression efforts in the transition between timber and grasslands along the old railroad line between Albany and Centennial.

Gov. Mark Gordon visited the area on Thursday to survey the damage and talk with fire crews, meteorologist Carrie Fleagle noted.

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Thursday AM Mullen Fire Update: Huge Amounts of Dead Lodgepole Pine Creating Resistance

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

The cooler temperatures this week have been critical in helping firefighters put water on hot spots and prepare for full containment of the Mullen Fire in Medicine Bow National Forest, officials announced Thursday morning.

John Wallace, operations commander for the fire management team, discussed Wednesday’s operations and plans for Thursday during a Facebook livestream.

Certain areas in the southern region of the fire will likely be considered contained in the coming days, Wallace said.

However, the northern side is still burning actively.

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

The fire has “really slowed down,” according to Wallace and had affected 170,996 acres as of Thursday morning. Nearly 1,100 personnel are working to combat the fire.

Although temperatures were cooler, a fire weather watch and red flag warning had been issued due to dry conditions and gusty winds.

A cold front will move into the area late Saturday into early Sunday, but “seasonal weather” will return for the next week, officials said.

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Centennial Resident Talks Anxiety, Fears Of Possible Evacuation

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

For about two weeks, Marie Kranz has begun every morning by getting her work uniform out of her suitcase.

The Centennial postmaster is not living away from her home. She’s just been living on the edge of a pre-evacuation notice for the last few weeks due to the Mullen Fire in Medicine Bow National Forest.

Centennial has been under a pre-evacuation notice for several weeks, with the Albany County Sheriff’s Office reiterating that the pre-evacuation order still stands: residents should be prepared to leave their homes at a moment’s notice.

Some of the pre-evacuation checklist tasks advise residents to make sure they have at least a half-tank of gas at all times, make sure important files are packed up and ready to go and that special or valuable items are ready to be picked up as soon as the evacuation order is issued.

Kranz has lived in Centennial for less than a year, but has spent the last two weeks in a near-constant state of anxiety. She’s packed up her belongings, categorized any items that insurance could replace and has her dog’s items ready, just in case the call comes.

“I’ve been living out of boxes and suitcases for the last couple weeks,” she said. “It kind of reminds me of when I used to travel for work and I would be in hotels and living out of suitcases, but I’m in my home.”

The anxiety, at times, can be agonizing. She noted that a recent trip into Laramie earlier this week caused a near panic attack.

“I drove to Laramie to get dog food and some groceries and I was so worried the entire time I was gone that the evacuation notice would come down and I wouldn’t be able to go home and get my dog and my things,” she said. “Every single time I passed a police car, I would have to stop myself from pulling over and turning around. I kept thinking, ‘This is it.'”

Doing menial errands like grocery shopping has turned into a game of strategy, as Kranz worries that any time she leaves her home for anything other than work, it might be the last time she sees it.

But it’s not just her dog and belongings Kranz is worried about – it’s her neighbors, her newfound community in Centennial and the forest itself. It’s heartbreaking for Kranz and the Centennial residents to watch the beautiful trees go up in flames.

The smoke has also been a problem in Centennial, Kranz noted. Some days, the skies are clear and as blue as the ocean.

Others, it looks overcast outside, but instead of gray, the sky is red.

“Sometimes, like today, the sky will be so black, you can’t even see the sun,” she said. “It’s scary, because you think ‘If there’s smoke, there’s fire.’ When you see smoke like that, you realize how close the fire is.”

So for now, Kranz and the rest of the Centennial community will continue to wait, either for an all clear sign or an evacuation notice. The only thing that can put Kranz at ease right now is precipitation.

“I don’t care if it’s rain or snow, just something wet falling from the sky,” she said.

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Wednesday Night Mullen Fire Update: Fire Inches Closer To Ryan Park

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Firefighters spent much of the day Wednesday conducting structure assessments, prep work and ordering supplies to keep the Mullen Fire at bay, officials announced during their regular briefing.

John Wallace, operations section chief for the Type I management team on the fire, gave the rundown on Wednesday’s operations during a Facebook livestream.

No notice was given about how much the fire had grown on Wednesday or if the containment rate was still at 14%.

The Ryan Park area was a major focus for fire crews today, as they began looking to that community for structure assessment and preparing structures for protection against the flames.

Although the main fire is still relatively far from Ryan Park, spot fires have been popping up in the woods near there, concerning crews.

Centennial is also being eyed for structure assessment this week.

“We’ve got folks in Centennial doing structure assessments, and [Thursday] you’re going to start seeing people again, getting hoses out of trucks, setting up big orange tanks, working with local fire departments,” Wallace said.

The closest portion of the fire is about eight miles away from Centennial and moved “very little” on Wednesday. Wallace said crews believe the higher elevations and the September snowstorm have kept it at bay.

Temperatures were in the upper 60s on Wednesday, but there will be a red flag warning going into effect on Thursday due to high winds and dry weather conditions.

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Wednesday Morning Mullen Update: Aircraft To Drop Retardant On Albany Area

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

It will look like an airshow in the Albany area on Wednesday as multiple aircraft will be coming in to help battle the Mullen Fire in Medicine Bow National Forest.

John Wallace, operations section chief for the management team on the fire, said heavy air tankers would fly over the Albany area throughout Wednesday to drop retardant on the fire.

Wallace, part of a new Type I management team that took over the fire’s management Tuesday, provided his update by Facebook livestream Wednesady morning.

The Mullen Fire has now affected 166,588 acres and is still 14% contained.

Wallace said during his update that firefighters saw “a lot” of activity Tuesday afternoon and evening, with many personnel working to protect structures in the Albany area. The fire reached 311 Road, but was held back by crews, he said.

“We’re just getting things ready for if the fire does move past Rambler, past Keystone and begin to move out and start threatening Centennial,” Wallace said. “So we’ve done a lot of cleanup work yesterday and last night, getting ready for the next three or four days.”

Although Centennial still hasn’t been evacuated, crews are preparing for the fire to move in that direction, taking this time to work on structure protection and placing hoses, just in case.

Smoke will also be heavy throughout Wednesday, Wallace added.

According to fire tracking website InciWeb, lighter winds are expected Wednesday, the lightest that fire crews will see until at least early next week. Fire weather conditions will stay elevated, despite the lighter winds.

Temperatures will cool over the weekend, as well.

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Tuesday Morning Mullen Fire Update: 161K Acres Affected

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Firefighters will spend much of Tuesday working to combat fire “fingers,” small areas protruding from the main body of the Mullen Fire that have been pushed in various directions inside of Medicine Bow National Forest, officials announced.

The strategy announcement was one of several made by John Peterson, public information officer for the Rocky Mountain Incident Mangement Team, during a briefing livestreamed to Facebook.

Peterson also announced that the Rambler area on the Carbon County side of the fire continues to be monitored for structure protection and has been evacuated.

“We’ve had a structural protection group in the Rambler area for over 14 days,” Peterson said. “They’ve been preparing those structures and they’re engaged with continuing to protect those structures.”

There have also been structure protection groups in the Mountain Home and Foxborough areas, which have also been evacuated.

As of Tuesday morning, the fire has affected just over 161,000 acres and 1,130 personnel are working to combat it. The fire is at 14% containment.

There have been “several” spot fires in the Albany area that firefighters have had to “actively and aggressively” combat and contain, Peterson added.

The fire has continued to move south into Colorado, but it hasn’t been nearly as aggressive as it was last week.

Peterson said it isn’t quite time to say there has been containment for the portion of the fire burning in Colorado, but noted that there have been fewer spot fires and that the fire was settling down in that area.

According to fire tracking website InciWeb, persistent critical fire weather will continue throughout Tuesday. Westerly winds will increase throughout the morning, hitting gusts up to 30 MPH.

Warm and dry conditions will be in place Wednesday through Friday. The winds will diminish some on Wednesday, but are expected to increase Thursday and Friday.

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Monday Morning Mullen Update: Fire Is Now 151,700 Acres

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

The Mullen Fire in Medicine Bow National Forest is now at 14% containment level and has grown to 151,700 acres, officials announced on Monday morning.

Monday will be a “red flag” day, where fire conditions are considered extreme, since humidity levels are low and winds will blow from the west direction, but will adjust to the northwest later in the day. Wind gusts could be up to 35 mph throughout the day with active burning throughout.

In a Monday morning update posted to Facebook, Deon Steinley, a Rocky Mountain Incident Management team member, noted that the Mountain Home area in Albany County has been a major focus for firefighting teams.

“There’s a particular division in the southern portion that has been a really critical area for us,” he said. “We’ve got the Mountain Home community down here that we’ve got resources to protect and suppress the fire.”

He added that crews have been working to add burn lines to help stop the fire or keep it at bay as much as possible.

Smoke production will also be high on Monday and will spread to the east.

The smoke will be persistent in the North Platte and Laramie River valleys on Monday morning, but the winds will transport it to northeast Colorado later in the morning, according to a release posted to the Mullen Fire Information Facebook page.

Smoke will return to the area late Monday night and will affect the air quality on Tuesday as well.

Critical fire weather conditions are possible again Tuesday and warm and dry conditions are expected through the week. Gusty winds are predicted for Tuesday and Thursday.

On Sunday, firefighters conducted successful intentional burn operations in several locations around the perimeter of the fire to widen existing firelines, but structure protection remains a priority throughout the fire area.

Just over 1,100 personnel were working to combat the fire as of Monday morning.

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Friday Night Mullen Update: Fire Contained At 6%

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Firefighters battling the 128,700-acre Mullen Fire have been able to complete a containment line around 6% of the blaze, officials said Friday.

Firefighters worked to create fuel breaks between roads and the main body of the fire in the Medicine Bow National Forest on Friday, relying on logging operations to help reduce heavy fuels around the Rambler, Foxborough and Fox Park areas, said Deon Steinley, a fire management team official.

On the west side of Albany, burnout operations are gradually moving west along the 513 and 542 Roads, according to fire tracking website InciWeb. On the south side, burnouts are continuing along the north sides of the Colorado Highways 127 and 125 to slow the fire’s spread south.

Meadow Plains Road south to Yankee Road and areas near Sheep Mountain to the Lake Hattie Reservoir and north of Highway 230 are now under a pre-evacuation warning.

In their evening update streamed to Facebook, Rocky Mountain Incident Management Team officials said that the fire had grown to affect 128,738 acres and 1,097 people are working to combat the fire.

In all areas of the fire, aerial firefighters are supporting personnel on the ground.

Fire managers’ goal is full suppression of the Mullen Fire. Firefighters will extinguish the fire as soon as possible, and keep it as small as possible, while reducing risks to the public and firefighters.

The active behavior of both the Mullen Fire and Cameron Peak Fire is creating increasing smoke impacts to southern Wyoming and northern Colorado.

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Friday Morning Mullen Update: More than 1K People Working To Combat Fire

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

The Mullen Fire grew again overnight, reaching nearly 130,000 acres as of Friday morning.

The fire has affected 127,503 acres, according to fire tracking website InciWeb. More than 1,000 personnel are working to slow the fire’s spread and protecting valuables at risk all over the fire area.

Fire managers expected another day of active fire behavior on Friday, thanks largely breezy winds.

On Thursday, firefighters conducted a successful burnout operation along the north sides of the Colorado Highways 125 and 127 to block the fire’s advance to the south by removing fuels from the roadsides.

When conditions are favorable either Friday or sometime over the weekend, firefighters will continue burnout operations to remove additional fuels between the roads and the main body of the fire. Those burnouts may include aerial firing operations.

Rocky Mountain Incident Management Team spokesman John Peterson told Cowboy State Daily on Friday that firefighters would see more active fire conditions and that red flag conditions were predicted for the day.

He added that the crews didn’t believe the Mullen Fire would end up merging with the Cameron Peak Fire currently burning down in Colorado, which is about 30 miles away from the southernmost portion of Mullen.

“We have been really doing some prep in the three-way area where Wyoming Highway 230 turns into Colorado Highway 125,” Peterson said. “That’s where the fire is moving right now. Everywhere else has been pretty static.”

Peterson said crews were hoping to keep the fire at bay at its current point in Colorado, which it crossed into earlier this week.

In other areas of the fire, burnout operations are also planned along roads, fire lines and natural features to limit the fire’s spread.

On Thursday night, the main body of the fire was active north of the two Colorado highways and out of an abundance of caution, the sheriff of Jackson County, Colorado, called for an additional mandatory evacuation in the area of Highway 127.

The weather over the weekend is predicted to be much cooler on Saturday, with gusty northwest winds and increased cloud cover. Warmer conditions are expected to return Sunday and Monday, with winds shifting to come from the west.

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Thursday Night Mullen Fire Update: 118k Acre Fire “A Beast By Any Stretch of the Imagination”

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Posted by Mullen Fire Information on Thursday, October 1, 2020

Although firefighters have not been able to establish containment lines around the 118,000-acre Mullen Fire, they have successfully battled the fire in a number of other ways, a member of the fire management team battling the flames said Thursday.

Bill Waln, deputy incident commander for the Rocky Mountain Blue Team, said the more than 900 firefighters now working the fire in the Medicine Bow National Forest have been able to make advances in building fire lines to slow the fire’s spread and have been able to protect both humans and buildings.

“We’re learning how to redefine success on this fire,” he said during a briefing Thursday evening. “It’s a beast by any stretch of imagination. It just wants to go and go.”

About 60 buildings, including 29 homes and 31 outbuildings, have been destroyed near Lower Keystone, Lake Creek and Foxborough, but Waln said many more buildings have been saved.

“Yes, we’ve lost a few homes and that is not a very good thing,” he said. “But we’ve saved a lot more homes and a lot of values at risk have been protected.”

One of the priorities for firefighters Thursday was conducting controlled burns along Colorado Highway 127 to create a buffer to the fire as it continues moving to the south and further into Colorado, said Deon Steinle, operations section chief trainee for the Rocky Mountain Blue Team.

“We’re wanting to do this in anticipation of continued wind events and low humidity,” he said. “If we can get this fire line in, it will provide a very good buffer to any more spread.”

He added that as firefighters move inside the perimeter of the fire, they’re finding that the fire burned quickly and moved on without leaving long-lasting areas of flames.

“What we’re seeing is really good consumption in this fire,” he said. “Which means (fuels) burn pretty quickly and then they’ll be out. It doesn’t linger a really long time.”

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Thursday Morning Mullen Update: Fire Rages To 117K Acres, Mail Delivery Halted In Areas

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

The Mullen Fire in Medicine Bow National Forest continued to grow Wednesday night, reaching 117,420 acres as of Thursday morning.

As the fire expanded to the south, crossing over the Colorado border in some cases, the the U.S. Postal Service announced Thursday morning that due to danger from the fire, mail delivery has been curtailed to some addresses in the Fox Park, Albany and Jelm areas.

Fox Park and Albany are among the areas that have been evacuated in the last few days as the fire has spread.

Fire activity was expected to be high on Thursday, officials announced on the fire tracking website InciWeb. A crew of 934 personnel were working to combat the fire as of Thursday morning, and more were expected to arrive over the next few days.

On Wednesday night when winds were favorable, firefighters conducted burnout operations to limit the fire’s spread by removing fuels along roads, fire lines and natural features.

They also began a control line west of Albany to improve the defense of areas east of the Rob Roy Reservoir, Cheyenne’s main water source.

Southeast of the fire, firefighters worked to interrupt the fire’s progression by burning out fuels on the west side of Wyoming Highway 230 and Colorado Highway 127 on the state border.

Firefighters also spent Wednesday night preparing structures for possible impacts from the fire and defended homes in and near the fire footprint.

A weak cold front was expected to cross the fire area early Thursday, boosting humidity levels slightly and keeping temperatures relatively cool.

A stronger cold front was predicted to reach the area Friday evening, bringing increased cloud cover, breezy winds and cooler temperatures by Saturday.

Winds will shift in a western direction and temperatures will again rise on Sunday and Monday.

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Wednesday Night Mullen Update: Fire Reaches 103K Acres

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Posted by Mullen Fire Information on Wednesday, September 30, 2020

By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

The Mullen Fire in Medicine Bow National Forest has officially spread to more than 100,000 acres, officials announced Wednesday evening.

During a Facebook livestream news conference, officials provided updates about the fire activity on Wednesday, the resources needed and new evacuation orders.

As of Wednesday evening, the fire has affected 103,542 acres, according to Deon Stein, lead planning operations manager of the Rocky Mountain Incident Management Blue Team.

As the fire spread south toward the Colorado border, the Roach and Hohnholz areas in northwest Larimer County, Colorado, were evacuated due to imminent danger. Wyoming Highway 230 to Riverside was closed until further notice, according to fire tracking website InciWeb.

The fire was active on Wednesday, meaning that resources had to be diverted to keep it at bay, Stein told viewers during the update.

U.S. Forest Service Meteorologist Brad Anderson said the air quality in Cheyenne would likely decline on Thursday, due to smoke from both the Mullen and Colorado’s Cameron Peak fires.

Team incident commander Michael Hayden said during the livestream that although nearly 1,000 people (887 as of Wednesday evening) are working to combat the fire, he wanted more.

“We want more resources to go out there and protect structures, bridges, values and the forest overall,” Hayden said.

He added that it is likely the Rocky Mountain team will be replaced in the coming days by the National Incident Management Team, a Type I fire management team, usually assigned to the most complex type of wildfire.

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Wednesday Morning Mullen Update: 29 Houses Lost, Fire Almost To 100K Acres

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

The Mullen Fire continued to grow in size overnight Tuesday, reaching 96,757 acres as of Wednesday morning.

There are now 887 personnel working to defend homes in and near the fire and more help will continue to arrive throughout the week, according to fire tracking website InciWeb. Firefighters worked throughout the night Tuesday to aggressively defend structures.

The fire was expected to be active Wednesday in the face of warm temperatures, winds gusting to 20 mph and low humidity.

Crews were working to slow fire progression along the North Platte River and a fleet of 20 aircraft have been critical in cooling the fire’s edge and assisting with structure protection.

Firefighters are also working to limit fire growth in key areas south of the fire such as Albany, Sheep Mountain, Highway 230 near Woods Landing, Foxborough, Fox Park, Rob Roy and the southwestern corner of the fire near Six Mile Campground.

“Because this fire is so large, we’re having to do some pretty strategic prioritization to try to limit spread and limit impact to infrastructure, values and risk and communities,” said Deon Steinle, operations section chief trainee for the Rocky Mountain Blue Team battling the flames.

Fire managers have been shifting resources between divisions as needed to responded to changing fire conditions. The fire is expected to move south to the Colorado border due to strong winds and various fuels in the forest.

Smoke was expected to fill the skies on Wednesday until the inversion breaks. Visibility will then increase with breezy north and northwest winds gusting up to 20 mph.

On Tuesday, the Albany County Sheriff’s Office announced that 38 property owners have lost property due to the fire, a total of 29 houses and 31 outbuildings in the lower Keystone, Lake Creek and Foxborough areas.

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Tuesday Night Mullen Fire Update: 60 Buildings Damaged, Dry Windy Weather to Continue

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

UPDATED AT 5:30 P.M. TUESDAY, SEPT. 29

At least 60 buildings inside the Medicine Bow National Forest have been damaged by the Mullen Fire, the Albany County Sheriff’s Office announced Tuesday.

Undersheriff Josh DeBree, speaking during the nightly briefing on the 82,600-acre Mullen Fire, said officials were able to get to the Lower Keystone, Lake Creek and Foxborough areas on the fire’s southern edge to assess damages.

He said officials determined that 29 homes and 31 outbuildings on 38 pieces of property had been damaged by the fire that started on Sept. 17.

“On behalf of everyone working on the fire, our hearts to out to anyone who lost property,” he said.

The damage came despite the efforts of firefighters to protect structures threatened by the flames from the fire and forest Supervisor Russ Bacon said without the efforts of the firefighters, the damage would have been worse.

“Without their amazing work in the last week, we likely would have lost more property,” he said.

On Tuesday, Chris Zoller, the operations section chief for the Rocky Mountain Blue Team management group, said the efforts of the more than 700 firefighters battling the flames remained focused on protecting structures inside the fire’s perimeter and in the areas where the fire is expected to spread.

He added that as officials had expected, dry, windy weather Tuesday led to increased fire activity.

Bacon reminded listeners to the briefing that long-term weather forecasts indicated the fire could go on for quite some time.

“A key point to recognize and acknowledge is that we are in this thing for the long haul,” he said. “Because of where we are at in terms of weather conditions and fuel conditions, we’ve got several weeks ahead of us of significant fire impact.”

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Fire crews planned to use retardant on the Mullen Fire in Medicine Bow National Forest on Tuesday to strategically pre-treat areas adjacent to structures at risk.

This was one of the announcements made Tuesday morning on the fire tracking website InciWeb. The fire has now affected 82,649 acres and is at 0% containment.

No containment will be declared until the heat detected on the fire’s perimeter has fallen low enough to make it unlikely that the fire will grow beyond any established fire line. This involves monitoring the fire line and adjacent areas for several days for smoldering stumps, trees, ash pits or any other heat sources.

Crews will conduct fire severity assessments this week. Often, fires will burn in a mosaic pattern, leaving pockets of burned and unburned fuels.

However, when a fire with high intensity quickly moves through an area, it might leave larger swaths of blackened soil and vegetation. This will factor into whether any stabilization or rehabilitation may be needed at a later date.

Warmer temperatures are expected to return to the area along with drier air and gusting winds, which will result in near-critical fire weather conditions, officials said.

Increased fire activity is likely the next several days and extreme fire behavior is possible. 

On Monday, crews worked on structure protection in multiple communities, including developed areas close to the fire’s perimeter and those a few miles further to the south and west.

Aircraft were heavily utilized on Monday to drop water on the fire after crews spent the weekend dealing with strong, gusty winds. Firefighters also prioritized assessing properties for any damaged or destroyed buildings.

Albany County Sheriff’s officers will contact affected homeowners.

Additional crews have been reassigned to the Mullen Fire after being released from working fires in the Pacific Northwest. This has increased the number of people working the fire to 738 as of Tuesday.

A number of roads have been closed, including WY 11 from the junction with County Road 47 into Albany, County Road 47 between WYO 11 and WYO 230, WY 230 from the Colorado border to Meadow Plains Road. There is no estimate on when these roads might reopen.

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