Wyo State Forestry sees light fire season, unusual late-season activity
Defining a “normal” fire season has been impossible for the last dozen years, says Wyoming State Forester Bill Crapser.
“It is hard to talk about a ‘normal’ fire season because I don’t think we’ve had one,” Crapser says. “Going back, 2012 was a record fire season in the state, 2013 was a fairly light season, and 2014 was a very light season. 2015 was a light season, but we had quite a bit of activity in the state, especially in September and October.”
He adds, “That is a later fire season than we normally see.”
In Wyoming, Crapser comments that nine Emergency Fire Suppression Account fires were seen this year. Those fires that tap into the fund are typically the larger fires.
“This year was a wet season until September,” he explains. “Then, in Cheyenne, we had the hottest September on record. For that time of year, it was hot and dry.”
“It was more active than many people thought,” he adds of the overall season. “We had a lot of initial attacks.”
A number of counties in the state and the Wyoming State Helitack crew stayed busy with small fires and initial attacks, which is important in avoiding larger fires, Crapser says.
“We were able to get on these fires and get them out quickly,” he continues. “That is important to remember.”
Because of the importance of the initial fire attack, Crapser notes that Wyoming State Forestry’s Fire Division strives to maintain a 98 percent success rate on initial attack, a standard that they met in 2015.
“Even in 2012, with all the large fires, the wildland fire service across the state still achieved about 98 percent success on initial attack,” Crapser comments. “That is the standard we try to get.”
By maintaining high initial attack rate success, Crapser notes that Wyoming State Forestry is more able to avoid large fires.
“Some years – and 2012 was one of those years – we have fires that go from little to big really fast,” he says.
Crapser notes that this year, Wyoming State Forestry’s fire crews were largely deployed around the region, particularly in the Northwest.
“We had a whole lot of people deployed out of the state and helping people out of other states,” he says.
Aside from fighting fires, Crapser also notes that Wyoming State Forestry has invested their resources in continued training.
“We are working really closely with the counties on fire training,” he says. “We try to expand every year and have more training.”
“We also do a lot of fuels work around the state through State Forestry,” Crapser notes. “We normally get around $1 million each year of federal money for fuels treatment. We are able to do defensible space work and FireWise work.”
In addition, the Wyoming State Helitack team has matured, according to Crapser.
“We have our helitack team available to assist on any fires that start,” he explains. “They help with initial attack on those fires.”
The helicopter associated with the team is under contract for 105 days each year, and a team of individuals is assigned to the Helictack unit.
“We have a seasonal fire crew that goes with the helicopter for the initial attack,” Crapser says. “We’ve been able to develop and integrate, so we now have Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management with our state employees.”
“We truly have an interagency helitack system, which is fairly unique,” he emphasizes. “We are able to mix federal and state employees on the same fire crew, which leverages our man power.”
The resulting effort provides a fully staffed crew that is capable of responding quickly at all times.
Looking into the next few years, Crapser comments, “As with most state agencies, we are nervous about the budget situation, but overall, things are going well.”
Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at email@example.com.