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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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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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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.

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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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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Team Fighting Mullen Fire Shorthanded Due To “Critical Shortage” In Firefighting Resources

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Firefighters battling a 13,500-acre blaze in the Medicine Bow National Forest are having to deal with a “critical shortage” in firefighting resources caused by wildfires in California, Oregon and Washington, an official said Tuesday night during an update on the Mullen Fire.

Chris Zoller, Rocky Mountain Incident Management Team planning operations manager, was one of many presenters during the update on the fire burning in Medicine Bow National Forest on Tuesday. The team took over command of the fire early Tuesday morning, with the intent to bring in more resources to combat the fire.

Basically every resource available (ground crews, aircraft, etc.) is in short supply due to the wildfires raging farther west. But Zoller noted that the team has secured some aircraft to help with the fire, such as helicopters to help with structure protection.

The presentation also included information about what to do in case of an evacuation, closures in the forest and about the history of the fire. The cause was still unknown as of Tuesday night.

U.S. Forest Service spokesman Aaron Voos told Cowboy State Daily that while the closures are frustrating for the public, they have occurred in the interest of safety.

“We don’t take this closure lightly,” he said. “We only do it because we feel the fire has the potential to impact certain areas. We realize people are looking for immediate information on the fire, and we’re trying to provide it as quickly as possible, but want to make sure everything we release is accurate and not immediately out-of-date.”

Only 2% of the fire had been contained as of Tuesday evening, with 13,504 acres affected.

The fire has crossed the 500 Road on the north and 511 Road on the northeast, according to fire tracking website Inciweb. On the south side, the fire has crossed the 512 Road and is active in the Sheep Creek drainage.

It continued to burn Tuesday in extremely rugged terrain in an area with live blowdown and beetle-killed deadfall, so extreme fire behavior is possible. Strong, gusty winds could push the fire in multiple directions, but are predicted to push it to the east and northeast.

As of the Tuesday update, aerial firefighters successfully defended the Rambler community by applying a flame retardant along roads where prior fire mitigation projects reduced the available fuels.

Active fire behavior is expected to continue into Tuesday night and Wednesday morning. Some firefighters have been assigned to a night shift to continue operations.

The Lake Creek, Rambler, Rob Roy and Keystone communities and the 507C cabin grouping have been evacuated.

A pre-evacuation notice has been issued for the Centennial Valley, including private land along Fox Creek Road, the Albany and Centennial communities extending northwest along Highway 130 and all areas west of Highway 11 in the valley.

Ground and aerial operations continue to work on slowing the fire growth toward private properties on the west, east and north side of the perimeter.

Firefighters are assessing structures in the evacuated areas nearest the fire and preparing to implement defenses to protect those structures.

A temporary flight restriction is now in effect for the fire area, which applies to all private aircraft, including drones.

Fire Which Consists Of One Smoldering Tree Announced in Yellowstone

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We’re certainly not criticizing the National Park Service because wildfires can spread rapidly.

It’s just that this is a type of announcement we haven’t seen before.

There is a new fire in Yellowstone named the “Hancock Fire” and it consists of one smoldering tree.

The Park Service announced on its Facebook page that at around 11:45 a.m. Monday, a ranger detected the fire.

“The tree that is on fire is smoldering with no open flame,” the announcement reads. “Since the fire has low spread potential and is located in a remote area, several miles from a trail, fire staff will monitor it and will not take direct action.”

The agency called the smoldering tree a “0.1-acre fire” and it is believed to have been set by lightning as a strike was seen close to that location a few days prior.

Nothing is closed as a result of the smoldering tree. Campsites and trails remain open.

However, fire danger in the Yellowstone area remains very high; campfires in the backcountry are not allowed. All residents and visitors can assist fire efforts by following fire restrictions to reduce the potential of additional starts.

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Mullen Fire Monday Night Update: 13,504 Acres Affected, High Probability of Fire Growth

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Although the Mullen Fire was still raging in the Medicine Bow National Forest on Monday night, there was some good news to report.

According to Monday evening’s Incident Overview, not only have ground and aerial operations succeeded in securing some containment lines near the fire’s heel on the west side, but the fire has slowed after coming out of wilderness.

Plus, the amount of acres affected by the fire have decreased.

The fire perimeter is now 13,504 acres (as opposed to 13,835 acres). The agency attributes the change to “more precise, refined mapping” on Monday.

The bad news is that there remains a high probability for fire growth.

The Forest Service says the fire could grow in any direction but the most likely directions are east and northeast.

“The fire is aligned with fuels & topography to possibly make a run up Mullen Creek headwaters, into Douglas Creek & Middle Fork Little Laramie,” the agency said.

The same evacuations remain in place with the addition of the Lake Creek community which has been evacuated by Albany County.

As for the immediate future, the only new information is that a virtual community meeting is being planned for Tuesday evening. No details are yet available but interested parties should continue to check the InciWeb site for the Mullen Fire.

On Tuesday, a “Type II Incident Management Team” will assume management of the fire on Tuesday.

Forest Service spokesman Aaron Voos told Cowboy State Daily on Monday that a “Type II” management assessment team will arrive Tuesday to assume management of the fire.

“Basically, they come in to assess the damage and what’s going on and then bring in the appropriate resources to combat the fire,” he said.

The assessment teams usually consist of around 30 members, but can quickly grow to 50 or 100 people with additional resources. Voos said the group won’t be as large this year due to coronavirus restrictions, but its members will still likely be in the area for about two weeks.

The story is developing and will be continuously updated on CowboyStateDaily.com.

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Mullen Fire Doubles In Size; Now Nearly 14,000 Acres Affected

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UPDATE: From the Sunday evening Incident Overview.

Aerial resources were successful is checking fire growth to the east & southeast, keeping it from entering the Rambler area.

Ground & aerial operations were successful in securing 2% containment near the fire’s heel on the west side

Fire growth was not as intense as expected, with mainly interior burning & some expansion around the middle of the burn. The fire has slowed after coming out of wilderness.

Updated fire size & perimeter will be available Monday. More precise heat perimeter mapping is expected to refine fire location & size.

———

The Mullen Fire in the Medicine Bow National Forest almost doubled in size in less than a day and is now affecting 13,835 acres.

In its Incident Overview released on Sunday morning, the U.S. Forest Service said the fire, which was estimated to have affected 7,000 acres on Saturday evening, had grown to the northeast, north, and south, but ground crews and helicopters were successful at stopping growth to the west.

“It appears the fire has not yet reached Rob Roy Reservoir, but is very close,” the agency reported.

Aerial resources, the agency said, continued to drop fire retardant in the Rambler area.

Despite the growth of the fire, there was some good news. Rain showers were reported on parts of the fire Saturday night and the weather forecast called for cooler weather Sunday. But strong and gusty winds were still expected.

As reported yesterday, the fire has crossed the Savage Run Wilderness boundary on the south flank and the fire is now established in the Platte River Wilderness.

Late yesterday, the Forest Service expanded the closure area. “Please help us spread the word, as this fire is quickly evolving,” the agency tweeted.

Smoke from the fire will affect southeast Wyoming, parts of Colorado, and Nebraska. The National Weather Service released a simulated smoke dispersal model which highlights the impact of the smoke.

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Mullen Fire Grows to 7,000+ Acres; Firefighting Resources Pulled For Safety

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The Mullen Fire in Wyoming’s Medicine Bow National Forest continues to grow and continues to get more dangerous.

At 8 p.m. on Saturday, the U.S. Forest Service reported that resources fighting the fire had to be pulled back due to strong and shifting winds.

Aerial resources, they said, were also pulled because of the erratic winds and the poor visibility.

“There is intense fire activity on multiple flanks,” the Forest Service said in its 8 p.m. incident report. “The possibility for extreme fire behavior exists through the weekend.

According to the Rocky Mountain Area Coordination Center, 7,365 acres are affected by the fire but the Forest Service said “it is likely much larger.”

Earlier in the evening, Gov. Mark Gordon indicated a higher number as well.

“The Mullen Fire on the Medicine Bow National Forest is now estimated at 7,500 acres and is one mile from 25 summer cabins near Rob Roy Reservoir. Keep our fire crews and these homeowners in your thoughts,” Gordon tweeted.

The Forest Service reported that the Rambler and Rob Roy areas had been evacuated as of Saturday night. The Keystone area is under pre-evacuation notice. This includes Keystone proper, lower Keystone, Langford/Ricker, Moore’s Gulch, and 507C cabin grouping.

The communique also reported:

– The fire has crossed the Savage Run Wilderness boundary on the south flank, as well as the 512 Rd

– Fire is now established in the Platte River Wilderness

– On the east side, the fire has crossed the Savage Run Wilderness boundary over the 511 Rd, near Forest Road 562

Earlier Saturday evening, the Cheyenne Board of Public Utilities said the fire could have an impact at some point on Cheyenne’s water but “Cheyenne’s drinking water remains safe.”

“The location of the fire is by our main drinking water reservoir, Rob Roy. We do not know the impact of the Mullen Fire at this time, but the location suggests there may be some adverse effects to the City of Cheyenne’s water collection system and water quality.”

As for the immediate future, the Forest Service warned of future closures.

“This is a major fire, folks. Larger area closure coming for Medicine Bow,” the agency tweeted.

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More Than 100 Wyoming Firefighters Help Battle Wildfires

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

More than 100 Wyoming state and local firefighters are helping battle wildfires in West Coast states, according to a state official, but at the same time, firefighters remaining in the state have suppressed more than 1,500 fires.

“We haven’t had any big headline-type fires this year,” said state Forester Bill Crapser. “But we’ve had a record number of fires this year. Working with the federal agencies, focusing on aggressive initial attacks, knock on wood, it’s been pretty successful for us.”

Firefighters from across the country are helping battle the flames from the 28 major wildfires burning in California, and another 30 burning in Washington and Oregon.

Crapser said 88 firefighters from local fire departments across Wyoming are helping battle the fires, accompanied by 17 engines.

From the State Forestry Division, 12  firefighters and one engine have been sent to assist, he added.

Another 22 Wyoming firefighters making up part of a multi-state “strike team” are helping battle the flames in Oregon with firefighting crews from Kansas and South Dakota, Crapser said.

The local firefighters in Oregon, who also took engines from their departments, come from Campbell and Fremont counties and Rock Springs and Jackson, he added.

A state fire crew is also part of the team, along with one of the state’s engines, he said.

The units have been deployed in Oregon as part of the Great Plains Interstate Fire Compact, in which multiple states join efforts to battle flames.

“It’s pretty cool to see how we can mobilize stuff on a fire and put together that many agencies all running under the same management team,” he said.

Inside the state’s borders, firefighters have been assisted in their efforts to suppress fires early by two single-engine air tankers that the state has under contract, Crapser said.

“The two aircraft based out of Casper, they’ve flown on 50 different fires and made 229 individual sorties,” he said.

In addition, helicopters specially equipped to fly firefighters to remote fires have been busier than usual this year, Crapser said, helping with keeping fires to a minimum.

“In an average season for a helitack, they will fly 32 missions,” he said. “As of yesterday, they had flown 45 for the season.”

Part of the reason to aggressively battle fires is to keep them small so large fire camps will not be needed, he added.

“Part of it is because of COVID,” he said. “This is an attempt nationally. We’re trying to avoid large fire camps where we have several hundred people.”

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No Way — Outside of Time And Traveling Whack-A-Mole — To Escape the Smoky Air in Wyoming

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Like it or not, parts of Wyoming and other places in the west are stuck with smoky air for awhile because of the wildfires in California and the Pacific Northwest.

And that can be problematic for everyone but especially for people who already have breathing issues.

That’s why when we saw a television station in Spokane recommend Cody and Rock Springs as locations in Wyoming to escape the bad air, we wondered what was so special about these locations. Could they be home to smoke-free unicorns?

Sadly, there are no unicorns. The respite from the smoke could all be temporary.

Wyoming meteorologist Don Day said those two locations might be have good air quality presently, that could easily change.

“It is a moving target, the whole Cody/Rock Springs thing was at a moment in time, the smoke plumes come and go, so what is good one day may be bad the next,” Day told Cowboy State Daily.

“There are no good or worst spots,” he said.  “It all depends on the day.”

Day recommended visiting this website to check on the conditions in case you wanted to travel to get away from it.

If that is your strategy, be prepared to play a game of traveling whack-a-mole. You might be in a good location for six hours, only for weather patterns to shift and smoke to roll-in.

If you can suck it up for a couple more days, he says it will get better.

“I expect the smoke through Thursday, it starts to thin out Friday and into the weekend but may not completely move out,” Day said.

He said much-needed rain is headed for Washington and Oregon in the next few days which will certainly help. But most locations in California are still going to be dry.

“California fires will only get rain in the far north,” he said.  “Central and southern California fires will be the bigger smoke producers this weekend and next week.”

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Hanna Returns To Normal After City-Wide Evacuation

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

The task of emptying a complete community in the face of a rapidly spreading wildfire is something that very few people have experience doing.

Yet the town of Hanna managed to do exactly that on Saturday without any deaths, significant injury or loss of structures — with no practice beforehand.

“The whole thing was a like a practice event that we never practiced before,” said Mayor Lois Buchanan told the Cowboy State Daily. “Everything just clicked right together.”

Hanna residents were allowed to return to their homes Sunday afternoon, after firefighters stopped the advance of the 316 Fire toward the town’s city limits.

Power to homes, stopped because of concerns about the fire, was restored in time for the storm that swept through the state Monday, bringing snow and cold temperatures.

Kim Connolly, the town’s secretary, said residents seem to be returning to their normal lives.

“I think everyone was a bit traumatized,” she said. “It’s one of those where you never think it’s going to happen and it happens.”

When the evacuation order was given, the town’s residents traveled by bus or drove themselves to Laramie, where they were put up in one of seven hotels where the Red Cross and Albany County Office Emergency Management had arranged for them to take shelter.

In the meantime, emergency crews gathered at the Hanna High School parking lot to prepare for action against the flames, said Buchanan.

“I was at the staging area and I was in awe at all the agencies involved and all the resources and how fast they came together,” she said. “I don’t think we’ll ever show enough gratitude for everybody and everything.”

Firefighters from across southern Wyoming joined in to fight the flames, Buchanan said, along with firefighters from Oregon and agencies from as far away as Colorado Springs.

“It was an an amazing thing,” she said. “I hope we don’t have to go through it again.”

Buchanan credited all of the firefighting forces, organizations such as construction crews working on the Rocky Mountain Power Gateway Project, the Carbon County Emergency Management Agency and Hanna Marshal Jeff Neimark for safely moving Hanna residents to shelter and stopping the flame before they reached the city limits.

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Lone Star Fire Stagnates, Grand Loop Reopens Thursday

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Yellowstone National Park’s Grand Loop Road between Old Faithful and West Thumb Junction will be reopened some time Thursday after rains dampened the 820-are Lone Star Fire in the park, officials announced.

The National Park Service, in an update on the blaze that was sparked Saturday by lightning, said the fire did not grow significantly Wednesday because of heavy rains and thunderstorms in the area Wednesday night.

The Park Service is predicting containment of the fire by Oct. 30.

The fire is burning in stands of lodgepole, spruce and fir and is being worked by 38 firefighters.

Firefighters will also hike into the Howard Eaton and Shoshone Lake trails to observe fire behavior on the heel and northwest flank of the fire and note the effects of Wednesday night’s precipitation.

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Forest Fires Break Out In Shoshone National Forest

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By CJ Baker, Powell Tribune. Photo by Leslie Patten.

On Wednesday, crews were working to combat a pair of small wildfires that broke out in the Shoshone National Forest — one in Sunlight Basin and another along the Beartooth Highway in the area of Crazy Creek. Fire managers say both were started by lightning.

The Painter Creek Fire started Monday night and was estimated at roughly 2 acres on Wednesday, burning in timber on the east side of Windy Mountain. The mountain sits south of hundreds of acres of private property, including multiple ranches, within the Sunlight area of the Shoshone.

Firefighters were also looking to snuff out the Crazy Creek Fire, which was detected Tuesday evening east of the Crazy Creek Campground. It, too, was estimated at about 2 acres and fire managers said it’s not posing a threat to any structures.

“Resources from the Painter Fire were reassigned to the new fire [at Crazy Creek] and were quickly able to stop any further fire growth just before dark,” Shoshone officials said.

Three helicopters (one light, one medium and one heavy) have responded to both fires, with 16 smokejumpers working the Painter fire and a contracted 20-person crew and local Shoshone resources on the Crazy Creek Fire.

Kristie Salzmann, a spokeswoman for the Shoshone, said Tuesday that firefighters have been working to put out new fires “as quickly as possible.”

“In this unique year that we are in, we’re trying to keep fire camps small or non-existent,” Salzmann added, referring to COVID-19-related precautions. “So we are hitting fires with as much aerial resources — whether it be water or retardant, depending on the situation — to try and extinguish fires as soon as possible.”

Conditions have become increasingly dry in Wyoming in recent weeks, with officials in neighboring Yellowstone National Park implementing backcountry fire restrictions on Friday amid “very high” fire danger.

The Lone Star Fire, burning about 3 miles south of Old Faithful, had grown to more than 820 acres by Wednesday morning, with 38 personnel assigned to the fire. It was 0% contained, but has been spreading to the northeast and away from Old Faithful, park officials say.

Both the Old Faithful area and the West Thumb Geyser Basin remain fully open — along with all five park entrances. However, the Grand Loop Road between Old Faithful and West Thumb Junction remains closed due to the road’s “proximity to fire, impacts from smoke and increased fire traffic,” park officials said Tuesday. That’s requiring some visitors to make detours when traveling through Yellowstone.

Also on Tuesday, Bighorn National Forest officials announced that the Freeze Out Fire — located near Freeze Out Point on the northeastern side of the forest — has been fully contained after burning through 10 acres.

“No injuries were reported, and fire personnel are thankful for logistical support from local businesses,” said Sara Evans Kirol, a spokeswoman for the Bighorn Forest.

Lightning had started that fire around Aug. 19 and led to the temporary closure of the area surrounding the wildfire.

Yellowstone officials noted Tuesday that “fire activity in the western United States has created smoky conditions throughout the region” and that the country is currently in Preparedness Level 5 — “the highest level of fire activity and demand for resources.”

“All residents and visitors can assist fire efforts by strictly following any fire restrictions to reduce the potential of additional starts,” park officials said.

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Size of Lone Star Fire In Yellowstone Increases

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

The Lone Star Fire in Yellowstone National Park grew by 58 acres on Tuesday, bringing the size of the fire that began Saturday to 821 acres.

According to an update from the National Park Service, the fire remained fairly inactive throughout Tuesday morning, but picked up in the afternoon due to increased temperatures and gusty winds.

There were also a number of small spot fires in front of the fire’s perimeter, some as far as one-half mile away. A large spot fire to the south of the main blaze was found Tuesday night through an infrared flight.

The fire grew on its southwest and northeast edges, pushing away from the Old Faithful area toward Grand Loop Road. Thirty-eight personnel are currently assigned to the fire.

Fire personnel will continue to assess the Old Faithful area for risks to its structures. The fire has forced the closure of the area’s main road from Old Faithful to West Thumb Junction.

The fire was ignited ignited Saturday evening by a lightning strike.

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Firefighters Predict Containment Of Shoshone Fire In Two Weeks

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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

Firefighters in the Shoshone National Forest are now predicting containment of a wildfire burning west of Cody within two weeks.

More than 110 firefighters are battling the 591-acre Lost Creek Fire about halfway between Cody and Yellowstone National Park.

The fire was first reported on Saturday and officials say growth in the blaze has been slow since Sunday. 

On “InciWeb,” a website that features up-to-date information about wildfires on public land, officials estimated the fire would be contained by June 27.

Marvin Mathison, the operations section chief for the Lost Creek Fire, said crews are feeling positive about firefighting efforts despite the rugged terrain that resulted in the injury of one firefighter.

“One of the Craig Hotshots had a rock come down and it hit him in the leg,” he explained. “It took his legs out from underneath him, he fell backwards and hit his head on a rock. We did get him out, we took a ground ambulance and transported him to Cody.”

The Craig Interagency Hotshot Crew is a 20-22 person team based in Craig, Colorado, that battles wildfires on federal land around the region.

The fire spurred the temporary evacuation of two dude ranches, including the Bill Cody Ranch, where observers first spotted the fire.

Park County Emergency Management Director Jack Tatum praised local residents, many of whom offered help to anyone who needed to remove livestock from the fire area.

“I’ve seen on Facebook just the tremendous outpouring of support from local citizens,” he said. “They’re saying, ‘Hey, if you’ve got horses, hey, if you’ve got whatever, I’ve got room for ‘em.’”

One of the biggest complications in battling the Lost Creek Fire is the measures that have to be taken to keep people safe during the coronavirus pandemic, Sue Eichoff, a district ranger for the Shoshone National Forest, said at Sunday’s meeting.

“Smaller groups are spread out, we’re using the ‘module of one’ concept for housing,” she explained. “We’re doing social distancing if we have meetings, and doing our sanitizing, we’ve got a lot of personal protective equipment that the crews and the people that are working here have.” 

Eichoff expressed her appreciation for the effort to keep the public safe, as well as employees and firefighters. 

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Increased timber harvest could play role in diversified approach to wildfire prevention

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By Ike Fredregill, Cowboy State Daily

As catastrophic wildfires become more frequent across the West, people are looking for a single culprit, but it’s not that simple, Wyoming State Forester Bill Crapser said.

“People like to blame Smokey the Bear — that we extinguished every fire for 100 years. People like to blame lack of management from the U.S. Forest Service, saying they let our forests get into an unhealthy state. People like to blame climate change and the list goes on,” Crapser said. “Like everything, the easiest thing is to blame a single villain, but the reality is it’s probably all of that.”

A series of wildland fires racing across California caught the nation’s attention in October. 

The New York Times reported the fire threatened 90,000 buildings. 

CNBC reported 10 of the Golden State’s worst fires occurred in the last decade. 

But it was a viral “Smithsonian” magazine article about goats that caught the eye of Sen. Ogden Driskill, R-Devils Tower.

“Goats — grazing goats — saved the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum in California,” Driskill said. “This whole country was sheep and goat country once, but nobody grazes anymore.” 

Additionally, he said reductions in timber removal allowed by federal agencies overseeing Wyoming’s public lands could put the state at risk of suffering California’s fate.

“There’s no doubt we’re in a dry cycle and fires are affected by climate change,” Driskill said. “But this was not an earth-shattering drought year in California. Our (U.S.) Forest Service logs less and less, and as they do, we’ll have larger and larger fires.”

State-owned lands

While no forest is fireproof, a healthy forest is less likely to suffer catastrophic fire damage, Crapser said.

Unlike the Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service and Forest Service, Crapser’s Forestry Division is a state agency.

Counting seasonal firefighters, the division has about 50 employees to cover approximately 280,000 forested acres of state-owned lands. 

A significant portion of managing forest health is targeted timber harvests, which are usually handled by private contractors, Crapser said.

“We try to do a lot of thinning to reduce the basal area — the square foot of tree cover per acre,” he explained. “That promotes wood growth, helps grasses for grazing and makes the stands more fire resistant.” 

While the division promotes the use of grazing to manage fine fuels when consulting with private land owners, cities and counties, Crapser said it does not oversee grazing on state lands.

Yellowstone

Grazing isn’t a part of the Yellowstone National Park fire management plan, but the park is warming up to the idea of using private contractors for timber management, said John Cataldo, Yellowstone’s Fire and Aviation Management officer.

“This year, we started using a masticator — it’s got a drum head that basically mulches trees up to 6-8 inches in diameter,” Cataldo said. “We were able to treat about 60 acres around the government area in West Yellowstone (Montana). That’s going to buy us about 15 years of defensibility around that community.”

By mulching smaller fuels, the masticator creates a fuel break, which could cause a crown fire in the tops of trees — widely considered the hardest fire behavior to control — to drop down to the ground where fire crews can battle the blaze.

For about $35,000 and a few months of work, the masticator completed a timber management project that could’ve taken park staff years to complete with a much higher price tag, Cataldo said. 

Masticators are in high demand throughout the National Park Service, but the agency only has one operator and a couple of machines in the region. So Yellowstone is looking to private industry for future mulching efforts.

“This year and future years as these mastication treatments expand, we’ll be going to contracts,” Cataldo said, explaining the park has not previously used private contractors for timber management outside of emergency response. “We’ve used private industry when a fire is bearing down on a community, but these are proactive, pre-planned projects.”

Private industry

In recent years, the Forest Service has ramped up timber harvest projects, but nowhere near to the levels seen prior to the 1990s, said Ben Wudtke, executive director of the Intermountain Forest Association. 

The association is a collective of private industry leaders advocating for forest management, in part, by way of timber harvests.

“During the ‘90s, we had an administration that wanted to reduce timber harvest, and it did,” Wudtke said. “The Forest Service used to harvest 12 billion board feet annually, and that dropped to 2 billion board feet.”

Under the current administration, he said the Forest Service is allowing the harvest of about 4 billion board feet a year, but 30 years later, the damage to the logging industry was done.

Driskill said, “Look around, we hardly have any sawmills around the state anymore.”

According to Crapser, about nine mid-sized sawmills operated in Wyoming prior to the harvest reduction. 

Now, there are three.    

Wudtke said the federal government’s increased interest in timber harvesting is largely due to public outcry.

“A lot of that is seeing first-hand what happens when we’re not out there working together with these agencies to take care of these lands,” he said. “We have things like catastrophic pine beetle epidemics. We have stand- and forest-replacing wildfires. We have houses and lives being lost.”

Forest management requires human intervention, Wudtke said. 

“If we don’t, mother nature will,” he added. “And we don’t always like how she goes about it.”

Mounds of data exist in support of forest management through timber harvest, Wudtke said, but preventing future catastrophic wildfires in Wyoming isn’t a one-step solution.

“I’m not sure I’d put my finger on one thing and say if they change this, it would fix things,” Wudtke said. “It’s going to take a lot of work in a lot of areas from both government agencies and the public.”

Medicine Bow

In Medicine Bow National Forest, the Forest Service uses both targeted grazing and timber management projects as preventive measures against wildfire, Forest Service spokesman Aaron Voos said.

“We just finished a vegetation project in the Lake Owen area, and we’re getting ready to start some work in the Rob Roy area as well as Fox Park,” Voos explained. “Some of it was timber sales, some was working with public utilities around water sheds to protect from impact of wildfire as well as opening access to recreation areas.”

Voos said he could only speak to Forest Service practices on the Medicine Bow National Forest, Routt National Forest and Thunder Basin National Grassland. As to the federal agency’s historic timber management practices, Voos said he could only discuss what he personally observed during his time employed.

“What I’ve observed on the Medicine Bow and Routt is we are responding to changing forest conditions,” Voos said. “That hasn’t always been the case, largely because we’ve never seen a beetle infestation of this size before.”

The Forest Service is working on the Medicine Bow Landscape Vegetation Analysis project, dubbed LaVA, through the National Environmental Policy Act process. Over the next 10 to 15 years, the project is slated to treat up to 360,000 acres of beetle-kill affected areas in the national forest with a variety of methods, including private contractors.  

“Right now, we are very fortunate there is still a market for a certain amount of the beetle-killed timber that is still standing and still available,” Voos said. 

Medicine Bow also uses grazing allotments to manage fine fuels where fires can spread wide and fast. 

“There’s constant analyzing of those grazing allotments, and it is impacted by the potential for wildfire,” Voos said.

Even with numerous federal and state projects in play statewide, Crapser said Wyoming is on course to experience increasingly disastrous wildfire seasons.

“We’re probably going to see more fires in the future and rising costs of battling fires,” he said. “We’re also seeing a lot more people in the urban-wildland interface, and that creates a lot challenges for wildfire management.”

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