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Fire At Abortion Clinic in Casper on Wednesday Morning; Police Believe It Was Intentionally Set

in News/Crime
Photo by Desirée Tinoco
20102

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

An abortion clinic slated to open this summer in Casper was set ablaze Wednesday morning and law enforcement officials believe the fire was intentionally set.

While the clinic’s founder said the damage from the fire appeared to be extensive, it would not prevent the clinic from opening.

“This is something I’ve been afraid of happening,” Julie Burkhart, founder of Wellspring Health Access, told Cowboy State Daily. “I’ve worked in this field for a long time and I’ve seen vandalism, flooding, defacing property and buildings, but never arson.”

According to the Casper Police Department, police officers arrived to the clinic just before 4 a.m. Wednesday in response to a report of a business burglary.

When they arrived, they saw smoke rolling out of the clinic’s windows. The Casper Fire Department arrived on the scene and extinguished the fire.

The caller who reported the burglary said a person was seen running away from the building carrying a gas can and a black bag.

Investigators believe the fire to be intentional at this time. They are currently reviewing footage from the area to provide a description of the suspect.

Burkhart said from the outside, it appears there is “extensive” damage done to the inside of the building.

However, the fire will not stop her from opening the clinic, she said. She added that increased security measures will be added to the clinic once the damages are assessed.



Burkhart pointed to increasing violence across the country, such as the mass shootings in Buffalo, New York last week and the one at an elementary school in Texas on Tuesday, as examples of why she was not surprised the clinic was attacked.

“This is, unfortunately, a field fraught with trauma,” she said. “My former boss was murdered. So I’m just living through another traumatic moment. Violence against providers is not going to stop abortions. It’s a universal known that people have abortions and this isn’t going to stop anything.”

No injuries were reported as a result of the fire.

Casper Police spokeswoman Rebekah Ladd and Casper Fire spokesman Dane Anderson did not immediately return Cowboy State Daily’s request for comment on Wednesday.

The clinic has drawn much controversy since its opening was announced last month.

The new clinic between downtown Casper and the Wyoming Medical Center will be operated by Wellspring, which is incorporated in Washington, D.C., and headed up by founder Burkhart, who is based in Colorado.

The clinic is funded by private donors and has been created and supported by a community advisory board of 15 people, Burkhart previously said, including faith leaders, tribal communities and health care advocates.

Currently, Wyoming has only one abortion provider and 96% of Wyoming women live in a county without an abortion clinic.

Right to Life of Wyoming President Marti Halverson previously told Cowboy State Daily that the clinic is an “abomination” and that her organization was already looking at several avenues to thwart its completion and opening.

Sheila Leach, president of the Park County chapter of Right to Life of Wyoming, also expressed dismay at the news of a clinic in Casper and said that there is an ongoing grassroots effort involving pro-life activists across the state who are galvanizing in opposition to new clinic.

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Two Confirmed Dead in Explosive Riverton House Fire

in fire/News
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By Clair McFarland, Cowboy State Daily

Two people died in a house fire and explosion in Riverton on Monday, authorities have announced.

The Wyoming Fire Marshal’s office is investigating the fire as accidental, but its cause has not been announced.

The Riverton Volunteer Fire Department was dispatched along with police and other emergency responders at about 1 p.m. Monday to a home engulfed in flames from which loud explosions could be heard. The noise was later determined to have been caused by exploding oxygen tanks.

Neighbors on scene told Cowboy State Daily that in the fire’s early phases, officers asked them to go into their homes to avoid being hit by shrapnel from the exploding tanks. 

“Upon arrival there was heavy fire load in the house,” RVFD Chief Brian Hutchins said in a Tuesday statement. “It was confirmed there were two occupants unaccounted for. A search was conducted and two deceased occupants were found.”

RVFD had three fire vehicles and 15 firefighters on scene, and firefighters battled the flames from windows and through the fire-breached roof using a crane-raised scaffolding.

The Fremont County Sheriffs Office, Frontier Ambulance, and Fremont County Coroner’s office assisted on the scene. 

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Firefighters To Conduct Fuel Reduction Burns In Grand Teton National Park

in News/wildfire
14640

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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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Powell’s Used Fire Trucks Are A Hard Sell

in News/wildfire
12690

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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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Lightning Ignites Grass Fire North of Gillette, Burns 275 Acres

in News/wildfire
11262

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

in News/wildfire
9466

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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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Fire Claims Family Pets And Destroys Home In Wheatland

in News
7947

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By Mark Delap, Platte County Record-Times

WHEATLAND – Lacey Lind posted to her Facebook page a quote from Joyce Meyer that stated, “Just because what’s going on in your life right now doesn’t feel good, doesn’t mean God’s not working.”

That was posted after Butch and Lacey’s son, Ayden had broken his leg in a basketball tournament in Fort Collins, Colo.

The devastation was not over yet as Sunday night the Lind family got hit with another crisis as a pellet stove caught fire in their home on Fairview.

Road and firefighters were called to the scene Sunday night at 8 p.m. 
Firefighters arrived to a massive blaze and after fighting the fire all night, fire chief Bob Glasson who was still on scene with a crew at 9 a.m. Monday containing the fire said that it was a total loss. 

“Me and our 14-year-old (Rylie) and a four (Lyla) and a six (Ethan) were in the house when it broke out,” Butch Lind said. “My wife was down in Fort Collins with our 12-year-old playing basketball yesterday. I’m pretty sure it was a pellet stove where it started.”

On a busy holiday season and the house freshly decorated for Christmas, Lind’s daughter Rylie came up from the downstairs area and informed him that there was a fire.

“I went down and it was pretty bad,” Lind said. “I went out because we have a walkout basement and went out the door of course just to see if I could do anything and I knew I couldn’t, so I just turned around and I was between the door and the stairs and I think the window blew in and the flames went everywhere.”

Lind said that they stayed with some good friends for the night, but from this point, there is no plan as to where the family is going to go or what they are going to do to recover.

“I got the kids out and took them to friends,” Lind said. “We have a lot of good friends, and I appreciate all of the support.”

The family does have insurance on the home, but as to when the relief will come, there is no definite answer. The “Lind Family Rebuild Fund” was posted Monday morning by Rainey Evans who is organizing the relief effort.

According to Evan’s Facebook page, the call for help was as follows, “On Sunday, Dec. 13 the Lind family suffered a devastating house fire. With four young kids, the Lind’s are in need of all the essentials, especially clothing. Sizes needed: Girls Youth 4T, Boys Youth 7 (S/M), Girls Youth XL or Adult S, and Boys Adult M. There is an account set up at Wheatland Country Store for other clothing needs! Other items that would be accepted: Safeway Gift Cards, Christmas presents and toiletries. Any donations can be dropped off at Brown Company 705 16th Street in Wheatland. Platte Valley Bank in Wheatland has an account set up for the family under Lind Fire Fund.”

At the time of this posting, $3,200 had already been raised to help the family.

In a COVID year with so much adversity, the events of this weekend were heinous to a local family.

“I thank God it didn’t happen at midnight or 1 a.m.,” Lind said. “Because that’s where the two little ones would have been sleeping. That’s what I laid awake all night thinking.”

According to Lind, they have not located either the dog or the cat and the speculation was the loss of two family pets which adds more fuel to the fire of anguish.

Monday morning, Lacey Lind and son, Ayden were staying in Colorado where they will be visiting with an orthopedic doctor.

Family friend, Jenifer Cook said, “That is a heaping load of horrible on their plates. This town will absolutely pull together for them though…I have seen it time and time again over my lifetime. It is heartwarming and inspiring.”

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Lull in fire season doesn’t mean Wyoming is out of woods yet

in News/Agriculture
1744

By Ike Fredregill, Cowboy State Daily

After a spate of wildfires dominating Wyoming headlines in recent years, 2019 has been a quiet fire season for wildland firefighters so far. A wet spring and dry summer, however, have fire experts on high alert, one of the state’s lead disaster educators said.

“When we have increased forage growth without the chance to thin it down, we’re going to have an enhanced fire risk,” said Scott Cotton, a University of Wyoming Area Extension educator. “If we keep getting these dry lighting storms, our fire risk could go all the way into November.”

U.S Forest Service spokesperson Aaron Voos said the Forest Service is also keeping a weather eye on the horizon.

“There is always the possibility that we end up with accumulated fuels,” Voos explained. “This year has been pretty wet so far, but that doesn’t mean those fuels couldn’t dry out and cause us to see some fires late summer and early fall.”

Wyoming experienced several active fire seasons recently, with the human-started Badger Creek and Ryan fires consuming more than 20,000 acres each in Southeastern Wyoming last year. Near Wheatland, the Britania Mountain Fire scorched more than 30,000 acres in 2018.

As of Thursday, only one wildfire was known to be burning in Wyoming — the 4-acre Lick Creek Fire in the Bighorn National Forest. Two firefighters suffered minor injuries while fighting the flames, but were treated and released from an area hospital.U.S. Forest Service officials were also surveying the area Thursday to see if any new fires had been ignited near Story by lightning strikes Wednesday.

Not all fire activity is bad, Voos stressed. “A certain amount of wildfire is acceptable, but it’s hard to draw that line,” Voos said. “If we could pick and choose where we wanted these fires to happen, there would be a lot more good fires.”

Prevention

As “flash fuels” such as cheat grass dry out, Cotton said fire prevention falls to everyone.

“Unfortunately, we have a lot more plains fires than we do timber fires,” he said. “We try to encourage ranchers to increase their grazing to reduce fuels and graze strips intermittently to create fire breaks.”

One rancher described searching for potential fire hazards as “looking for purple,” Cotton said.

“Most of our cheat grass species … have a tendency for their tops to turn purple when they dry out,” he explained. 

Once dried out, cheat grass becomes a flash fuel, short grasses and light brush up to two feet tall that burn rapidly. Cotton said flash fuels are especially dangerous during the dry lightning storms common in late summer.

“There’s a number of ways they can reduce the fuels — mostly mechanical and animal (grazing),” he added. “But we also have a program with the weed and pest districts across the state that if (land owners) identify invasive flash fuels, the district can spray them to reduce the danger for the following year.”

On public lands, Voos said visitors can be the first line of defense against wildfires. 

“Campfires are, by far, the leading cause to wildfires (in the national forest),” he said. “The big fires we’ve had are not typical of this area, and that has a lot to do with human-caused fires.”

Voos provided a list of preventive measures to reduce the risk of fires on public lands:

  • Scrape back dead grass and forest materials from your campfire site;
  • Keep your campfire small and under control;
  • Keep a shovel and a water container nearby to douse escaped embers;
  • Do not park vehicles in tall dry grass as hot tailpipes can cause flash fuels to catch on fire;
  • Remember that any ignition – cigarettes, campfires, gunfire, vehicles – could be the cause of a wildland fire;
  • Grass and other vegetation can dry quickly and is extremely flammable; and
  • Always follow current fire restrictions.

Downtime?

Despite the lack of large wildfires currently blazing across Wyoming, Voos said Forest Service personnel are still out there fighting the good fight.

“One thing we’ve been able to do this year is some additional prescribed burning,” he explained. “We put some good fire on the ground on purpose and kept it contained.”

Prescribed burning can reduce accumulated fuels in problematic areas and create natural fire breaks as well as encourage biodiversity.

Additionally, fire crews can be allocated to other areas of the country where the fire season is in full swing.

“They still fight fires, but not on this unit,” Voos said. “They go out of area to assist other people that are in need of firefighters. When we have wildfires, we pull crews from around the country to help out, and turnabout is fair play.”

Cotton said farmers and ranchers should use the lull to survey their land.

“Early recognition and early use is one of the best methods of fire management,” he explained. “If you can identify where the fuel is, then, at the very least, you can talk to your volunteer firefighters, so they know where to keep an eye out.”

Statewide moisture outlook positive, wildfire outlook is average to below average

in News/weather
Statewide moisture outlook positive, wildfire outlook is average to below average
1404

By Ike Fredregill, Cowboy State Daily

Ample spring precipitation statewide is helping southeast Wyoming bounce back after a dry year in 2018, a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration hydrologist said.

“We’re a little above normal for precipitation across the state,” NOAA Hydrologist Jim Fahey said. “The Laramie Range, the Snowies and the Sierra Madres are all looking a lot better this year than previous years.”

Wyoming’s precipitation in April was 115 percent to 120 percent above average, and mountain snowpack across the state is close to 100 percent of median, according to NOAA’s water supply outlook for May 2019.

“The snow level is lowering, but there probably won’t be much runoff next week,” Fahey said Friday, May 17. “With cooler temperatures in the forecast, it may even accumulate a little bit.”

Although most of the state has above average precipitation rates, north central Wyoming around the Tongue and Powder River basins only received about 80 percent of average precipitation, the outlook states.

“Concern areas for too little precipitation would be the northern part of Powder River and the Tongue River, but they have some time catch up a little bit,” Fahey explained. “Right now, we don’t really have any concern areas for too much precipitation.”

The state’s reservoirs reached about 80 percent of capacity by early May, which Fahey said is a marked improvement from years past.

“The storages for early May are above average,” he said. “That’s a good thing. During the drought years, our reservoirs’ capacities were down to 40 percent.”

Fire outlook

Increased precipitation statewide could mean reduced fire activity this summer, but U.S. Forest Service spokesperson Aaron Voos said too much precipitation could also be problematic.

“There is a danger associated with good moisture years,” Voos explained. “In years of good precipitation, you’ve got more moisture in your fuels, but you also have more fine fuels, like grass.”

If the fine fuels dry out later in the season, they can carry a wildfire over a wider area than heavy fuels such as trees, he said.

Despite the dangers associated with higher precipitation years, Voos said data from the Rocky Mountain Area Coordination Center indicated Wyoming could experience average or below average fire season.

“I have to point out, we received a similar outlook around this time last year,” he added. “Then we had the Badger Creek Fire, Ryan Fire and Silver Creek Fire, which all burned more than 20,000 acres each.”

Both the Badger Creek Fire and Ryan Fire affected large portions of Southeast Wyoming, primarily in the Snowy Mountains, while the Silver Creek Fire blazed across the Routt National Forest in Colorado.

Fahey said NOAA was also monitoring the possibility of drier conditions in late May and early June.

“Hopefully, we don’t get a warm up then a rainfall in early June,” he said. “That’s a worst-case scenario for us, because that’s usually where we can get our worst cases of flash flooding. But, the long range forecast for May continues to look wet with below average temperatures, so we’re looking good.”

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