Wildfires sweep northwest Wyoming
The end of summer signals fire season for many, and this year is no exception for the Bridger-Teton National Forest, Shoshone National Forest, Grand Teton National Park and Yellowstone National Park.
“We had a late start this year as far as significant fires,” says Fire Information Officer for Teton Interagency Fire Traci Weaver. “We didn’t start getting much in the way of lightning fires until mid to late August.”
Weaver explains that fires can occur any time, but are prevalent in early spring, right after snowmelt before the grass gets green, and at the end of the summer when it get hot and dry.
“July, August and September are more typical for fire season,” says Weaver. “It is going to vary, however, in different parts of the state.”
“Overall, this hasn’t been a terrible fire year,” says Weaver.
Park spokesman for Yellowstone National Park (YNP) Al Nash says, “As far as the park this year, we have had 18 fires. That is fairly typical. In Yellowstone, most of our fires are started by lightning, and most of them don’t get bigger than an acre in size.”
The fires in YNP park this year have been primarily small, with only two that have burned more than one acre. Currently, of the two larger fires, one is 18 acres and the other, the Point Fire, has consumed 1,100 acres at this point, according to Nash.
“We had a lightning storm that prompted several small fires on Aug. 25,” says Nash. “Point Fire was one of those fires that found the right conditions on the ground and the right weather conditions.”
“We do have fire fighters on the fire, but we are not aggressively fighting the fire,” says Nash. “It is in a place where it is not posing any threat to people.”
“What we’ve learned over the decades is managing smaller fires has a lot of benefit,” explains Nash. “We have areas in the park where there are different age classes of fest, which means it is much less likely that we’ll see an even like 1988 in our future.”
The Norton Point Fire is one of the more significant fires located 24 miles north of Dubois. The fire is 20,218 acres and burning beetle-killed trees. Norton Point Fire started by a lightning strike on July 22.
Barb Pitman, Public Information Officer for the Hole-in-the-Wall Fire, says this fire started on Aug. 21 in Shoshone National Forest. As of Sept. 7, it has expanded to 6,109 acres and is 95 percent contained.
“It spread north across the state line into Montana on Aug. 24,” says Pitman. “There are some hotspots along the northeast and northwest edge of Montana. On the Wyoming side, there are a few scattered hotspots.”
Pitman explains the northeast edge of the fire is being monitored by a sprinkler system gravity fed by the Line Creek Drainage.
“One of the reasons they set that up is because of the really rugged terrain,” says Pitman. “It is not considered safe or feasible to have firefighters on the ground in that area.”
Pitman says they have been conducting rehabilitation on the fire line.
“The last several days, it has pretty much been creeping and smoldering on some hotspots,” she adds.
Currently, Bridger Teton National Forest is managing four fires, according to Weaver. The largest of which is the Red Rock Fire.
“Red Rock Fire was discovered on August 20. It was a lightning start fire and is at 8,500 acres now,” says Weaver. “The Vale Fire is southeast of Alpine and is at about 7,600 acres.”
“There have been multiple fires this year, but only six are active still, varying in size from the Red Rock Fire at 8,555 acres to hardly one tenth of an acre,” adds Weaver. “We are pretty dialed in with our neighbors to make sure we know what’s going on.”
“We are getting to the point in the year where we have shorter days, lower daytime highs and lower overnight lows. All of those can result in lessened fire activity,” says Nash. “But we’re talking about a natural process, and you can only predict so much. In Yellowstone, we often will have either a significant cold rain or a significant snowfall by the end of September to essentially end fire season.”
“The one thing that is significant with us with the fire burning on the forest is elk hunting season,” explains Weaver. “Season kicks off Sunday. We want to make sure hunters are aware and know the hazards of going into a recently burned area.”
Saige Albert is assistant editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.