Fires, not floods

Apr 29, 2012 By Steven R. Peck

Mother Nature is likely to present a different challenge this season

If it's not one thing it's another.

Fremont County is relieved, no doubt, to hear forecasters say the likelihood of another big flood season is remote. There just isn't enough snow in the high country this year, and the warm weather in April has some of it melting earlier than usual. Incredibly, in some mountain snow basins in the state, the snow is already completely gone and has been for awhile.

There's still a chance for a late-season snowstorm, but each day lessens the likelihood. A repeat of the snowy spring of 2011 -- and the 200-percent-of-normal snowpack that went with it -- isn't in the cards this year.

Now for the other side of the coin. It's been awhile since we've have a major wildfire season, but 2012 is shaping up with all the signs of becoming one. There is dense grass and underbrush from the wet springs of the past two years. We've had a mild, open winter that started drying out the countryside far sooner than usual. And now we've had an abnormally early start to summer-like weather in April. We've skipped the April showers and gone right to the May flowers.

It's lovely, of course, but if this continues and delivers a hot summer with only the occasional rain shower -- a familiar weather pattern in our part of America -- by August the wild landscape will be dry as dust.

Any wildland fire manager will tell you that one of the biggest worries here is that the Shoshone National Forest above Lander will ignite through either lightning or human carelessness and set the whole mountain ablaze. In terms of fire frequency, this is often referred to as "overdue."

There is a certain helplessness to this. Smokey Bear's famous slogan "Only you can prevent forest fires" can be misleading. What it really means is that we humans are the only beings in nature who can do something, sometimes, to prevent a fire. The rabbits aren't going to be much help in that regard. Neither are the mosquitoes or the trout.

But in a perfect fire season, there isn't a lot we an do about many fires. We can't control lightning, and Wyoming is too big a place to keep a fire from starting and spreading if conditions are right.

Does that mean we needn't bother trying? Nothing of the kind. It means, rather, that we must redouble our diligence this season in the areas we can control -- campfire safety, motor vehicle safety, responsible use of cigarette lighters and proper disposal of butts, sensible use of power tools, and the landscaping or property in the "firewise" mode to guard against a wildfire becoming a house fire.

Don't forget law enforcement. This summer, if you are careless with fire or its potential causes, don't be surprised when a peace officer comes calling.

In the spring, summer and fall of 2012, it will be impossible to be overly careful about wildfires. Here's a recommended pattern of behavior: Take every possible precaution -- and then do it again.

To an extent, we are at the mercy of nature in both fire and flood. But we can prepare as much as possible. This year, it is everyone's obligation to do precisely that.

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