Wildfire activity heating up in summer 2021
Wildfires are frequently discussed across the state, especially following the active 2020 fire season. With the hot, dry summer months ahead, it is important to be cautious now, more than ever.
Wyoming State Forester Bill Crapser explained, “All predictions show it is going to be a long hot summer, with a lot of activity.”
Understanding fires now will hopefully limit their impact later this summer.
Current fire activity
In the last few years, fire activity has been high, and this year is heading in the same direction.
“Right now, we are looking at a normal fire season for June, and an above-normal fire season is the prediction for July and August across the state,” said Crapser, anticipating to see an increase in fires.
Unfortunately, Crapser shared, he has already seen an increase, noting, “Within the last week, we have had four or five large fires, which for this time of year is not normal.”
University of Wyoming Range Extension Specialist Derek Scasta credits this year’s fire activity to the weather, stating, “It has been extremely warm but it has not just been heat, it is also the relative humidity – which has been very low.”
Seeing relative humidity down into the single digits, Scasta explained, “As the relative humidity gets low and things get really dry, the probability that grass and leaves from the trees will ignite goes up.”
If these conditions persist, Scasta predicts hundreds of thousands of acres in fires this summer.
“On average, from 2002 to 2015, we would have somewhere around 200,000 acres burn each year,” Scasta said, noting federal data on annual wild fire acres. “I certainly hope this year is not this way, but conditions are not good.”
Causes of fire
With this year’s fire expectancy high, Crapser and Scasta want people to always be cautious during outdoor activities.
“I think one of the most important things we are concerned about, and what we have seen over the last 10 years, is a huge increase in human caused fires,” Crapser said.
“As we look at this kind of extended drought and dry temperatures, it is even more important than ever people are very careful of fire, recreational shooting and fireworks, as well as follow county fire restrictions,” Crapser continued. “Be careful with hot exhaust pipes and high grass, trailer chains dragging on the road and other sorts of things which are known to start fires every year.”
The state of Wyoming has put in place many resources to hopefully decrease wildfires and increase response.
Crapser explained what his team has done to help this initiative, sharing, “Between county and state fire resources and our federal partners, we are definitely trying to get our fire prevention methods out there. Also, resources are in place to try and carry out as an aggressive initial attack as we can.”
To help with the initial attack, there are single engineer tankers available for county agencies and the state’s Helitack crew – a team of wildland firefighters transported by helicopters to fires.
Scasta suggested ways landowners could fight against wildfires, “Make sure to have defensible space around buildings, hay and feed supplies and fuel. I suggest mowing around those areas or grazing livestock to reduce the grasses, so if a fire comes, landowners can fight against the destruction of property,” he stated.
He continued, “If producers are engaging in any ranch activity, such as welding, they really want to be careful. Welding creates a lot of heat and sparks, and I recommend having a spotter ready with water.”
What to do
Both Crapser and Scasta encourage landowners to always think about fires while outside.
Scasta said, “One should really make sure they are doing their due diligence to prevent any kind of unintentional ignition because we do not want to light a fire that turns into something devastating.”
If something were to happen, it is important for people to identify the problem and take action.
“If someone sees smoke rising on the horizon, it is important to call a central dispatch,” said Scasta.. “The quicker a fire department can get on a fire, the more likely they are going to be successful in putting that fire out.”
Finally, wishing for rain and cool temperatures, Scasta concluded, “This is a time to be really cautious in my opinion.”
Savannah Peterson is an intern for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to firstname.lastname@example.org.