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'Red flag' fire warning takes effect locally

Jul 25, 2014 - By Katie Roenigk, Staff Writer

The National Weather Service has issued a "red flag" fire warning for residents in Riverton, Lander and throughout the Wind River Basin.

The status does not represent a ban on fires, but officials said anyone working with flames in the coming days should be extra careful to keep the blaze contained.

"We're letting people know that conditions will support accelerated fire growth," meteorologist Brett McDonald said. "It would be very, very smart not to be doing fires."

People who do have fires should exercise caution, making sure to have ample water available and checking the weather forecast beforehand. Fires should be monitored constantly as well.

"People go out and burn ditches in the morning when conditions are calm," McDonald said. "But it's very easy in the early afternoon for winds to pick up, and things get out of control. The same can happen with campfires wherever you're at."

The NWS says low humidity and general dryness combined with high winds contribute to the dangerous fire conditions. On Friday, McDonald said humidity levels in Fremont County were lower than 15 percent, and sustained winds were blowing at 20-25 miles per hour, with gusts over 25 mph.

His agency also takes input from groups like the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service when deciding whether to issue a red flag warning. McDonald said those agencies have indicated that grass and other fuels in the area are in a "critical" state right now.

"They've dried to a sufficient point that fire could sweep through them quickly," he said.

Red flag warnings also are in place in Casper and Rock Springs.

Wildfires

There are two wildfires currently burning in the Shoshone National Forest north of Dubois.

One that already is 100 percent contained has been dubbed the Dillworth Fire. The six-acre blaze was reported Sunday near Snowshoe Creek in the Dillworth Bench area on the north side of the Clarks Fork Canyon of the SNF. It was two acres when it was first detected.

Fire crews responded at that time but were unable to immediately access the area due to the remote location, according to the Incident Information System Inciweb.

Another is the eight-acre Swede Fire in the Burned Timber Creek area within the Elk Fork drainage of the SNF about 57 miles west of Cody. It was discovered at about 5 p.m. Wednesday about 13 miles south of Wyoming Highway 14 in the Washakie Wilderness. The fire currently is being managed for resource benefits, firefighter safety and protection of values on the North Fork corridor, inciweb states.

McDonald thinks Wyoming could experience a relatively quiet wildfire year this summer due to the fairly wet, cool spring that just passed.

"That helped to keep the moisture in place and keep things from drying out too quickly," he said.

The wetness does lead to an increase in vegetation, however, and McDonald said that can pose a fire hazard later in the season.

"By mid- to late summer, when those grasses start to dry out, those can actually accelerate fires or be more prone to getting fires started," he said.

Especially if temperatures remain in the 90s for extended periods, combined with dry, windy conditions, McDonald said his forecast for the season could change. For now, though, he said he doesn't anticipate "big, huge" blazes like the ones currently burning west of Wyoming.

"Looking at the next seven to 10 days, we'll have kind of high pressure around, but it'll be like we had in June -- a bit cloudy and moist," he said. "There's a different type of pressure building over the west this year, at least over Wyoming."

The Associated Press reports that wildfires have burned 2,471 square miles across the nation this summer, according to the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho. The 10-year average for this date is 6,016 square miles.