Wildfire season: Near-normal fires expected this year
As summer storms mix with spells of hot, dry weather, many Wyoming landowners are concerned about wildfire threats to forests and rangeland.
Wyoming State Forestry Division Assistant State Forester and Fire Management Officer Anthony Schultz explains the 2017 wildfire outlook and resources Wyomingites can use to stay updated on fire hazards.
Using multiple predictive tools, Schultz comments that the wildfire outlook for Wyoming this fire season is “average.”
“However, that being said, average doesn’t mean there’s no threat of fires,” he cautions.
During the month of July, Schultz explains there is an elevated fire danger in south-central Wyoming near the Medicine Bow area, as well as in the northeast portion of the state in the Black Hills area.
Most of the state, however, received enough moisture throughout the spring to be forecasted as an average fire danger.
“Folks need to note we’re still going to have fires, and they need to be cognizant about their fire use,” comments Schultz.
Weather patterns are a primary factor that influence the wildfire outlook, explains Schultz.
“Weather has the biggest impact on wildfires, including how quickly fuels dry out, how hot it gets and how windy it stays,” states Schultz. “All of those factors combine to help us determine our fire danger prediction or outlook for the season.”
The hot, dry weather seen last year resulted in 2016 being the second busiest wildland fire season for the state on record.
“Last year, we had a really wet spring season, but the water just kind of shut off,” he says. “When I say shut off, I mean we stopped getting the amount of moisture that was predicted. We got the hot weather but not the moisture, and it caused some problems.”
This year, weather predictions were that it would be wet, which was seen through much of the state into the beginning of June.
“We’re only seeing our first major fires here starting now with the Keystone fire,” Schultz comments.
The wildfire outlook for the season is determined using the National Fire Danger Rating System, says Schultz.
“It takes into account elevations, fuel, moisture, the wind speed, slope, aspect and a whole bunch of different factors, both meteorological and topographical,” he explains. “It combines them to determine an algorithm for fire danger.”
While there is very little human input, Schultz notes weather forecasting impacts the short-term fire forecast.
“If the forecasters say, ‘It’s going to be wet today,’ the algorithm takes that into account,” he comments.
Schultz continues, “Now, weather forecasts can be wrong, which affects fire behavior because weather is a little unpredictable, but we work with the tools we have available to us at the time.”
According to Schultz, fire activity in the state is consistent with patterns typically observed in Wyoming.
“We are getting fires. We’re getting a lot of initial attacks, which means a lot of starts and small fires,” he says. “Some of those are due to lightning, and some are human caused.”
However, compared to 2016, the 2017 fire season is down on the number of fires and down on the number of acres burned so far.
“Where we are now is not a good predictor going forward, though,” comments Schultz. “If we stop getting rain and continue to be hot and dry, we could see a year just like last year.”
He notes there has been a considerable amount of fire activity in Crook and Weston counties, as well as increasing attacks in Campbell and Washakie counties, but so far, those fires have been more easily contained.
“Our real problem fire and first one thus far is the Keystone fire,” he says, noting the fire is currently being managed by a type two incident management team.
The Keystone fire involved 2,305 acres and was approximately 24 percent contained, as of July 14.
“We have 554 personnel on that fire. It’s solely on Forest Service ground, but it’s threatening private land and private structures, so Wyoming State Forestry is involved,” Schultz explains.
He continues, “Compared to last year, our fire season has been relatively quiet, and hopefully, it will stay that way.”
“If anyone has questions about current fires or ongoing incidences, both in the state and around the nation, the National Situation Report in an invaluable tool,” says Schultz.
The report can be accessed at nifc.gov/nicc and landowners can select the Rocky Mountain Geographic Area Coordination Center on the map.
“The National Situation Report give the breakdown of the fires in our area. A lot of the fires burning in our area right now are in Colorado, with the Keystone fire burning in southern Wyoming,” he comments.
Schultz continues, “As far as fire danger goes, folks can look at our state forestry division website at wsfd.wyo.gov to see current fire bans.”
As a fire danger forecast, Schultz also notes that the Wildland Fire Assessment System (WFAS) is another invaluable resource, which can be found at wfas.net.
“WFAS pulls up a couple different pictures that are updated once a day for that specific day and the next day detailing current fire danger,” he concludes.
Emilee Gibb is editor of Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.