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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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