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Fires sparked by lightning in county; bigger blaze slowed

Jul 10, 2012 - By Christina George, Staff Writer

Officials blame lightning for several wildfires that ignited Monday on the Wind River Indian Reservation.

Bureau of Indian Affairs Forestry and Wildland Fire Management officer Bob Jones said several crews remained in areas across the reservation Tuesday fighting fires and looking for others.

"We had four or five fires start on the reservation yesterday. We were able to keep them pretty small, about a 10th of an acre," Jones said Tuesday morning.

The largest fire that started Monday was south of Bull Lake Rim. Jones said the blaze had consumed more than 17 acres since detection at about 3:30 p.m. on Monday.

"You could see it from Lander," he said about the smoke.

The BIA sent out a helicopter with a seven-person unit to do the initial attack.

Fremont County deputy fire chief Dan Oakley said county crews were paged to the scene at about 4:30 p.m. The two agencies ran a joint command system.

"We had 11 trucks with 23 county guys," Oakley said Tuesday morning. "It was a juniper patch, so it took out all of the junipers, but it didn't have a chance to up and run."

Jones said the helicopter crew was unable to fly into the fire because there was too much lightning.

"They had to sit and wait. But when the lightning passed, they started doing bucket work with the helicopter," he said. "Then they got the engines in."

He said the rain that followed was a double-edged sword.

"It didn't help the crews because it made the roads up there impassible. They were muddy," he said. "But the rain helped the fire."

County firefighters were on scene until 9:30 p.m. Monday, and BIA crews remained at the fire Tuesday.

"The fire is still going now, but it's being maintained in a perimeter," Jones said. "Right now, it's at 17.2 acres."

He said two of the fires were in the Owl Creek Mountains and St. Lawrence Basin.

"But there are two fires near Moccasin Lake that we are still trying to find," he said. "We can just see the smoke. We had two (U.S.) Forest Service engines stay overnight there."

Tuesday's plan, Jones said, was to disperse resources and preposition them in areas across the reservation for quick response. More resources have been secured, including firefighters and a second helicopter.

He said the concern is the recent fires reigniting and more starting.

"It's really critically dry, and we just ask people to use caution," Jones added.

Oakley agreed.

"It's extremely dry up there," he said.

According to the National Weather Service office in Riverton, a fire weather watch is in effect until Wednesday evening for the Wind River Basin. There is a chance of dry thunderstorms and low humidity.

"Isolated to widely scattered thunderstorms are expected to develop on Wednesday afternoon and could continue into Wednesday evening," the weather service's report stated. "Increased lightning activity on critically dry fuels... may encourage new fire starts."

Anyone who detects smoke on the reservation is asked to call the BIA Forestry Warehouse at 332-4408.

Bear Cub Fire update

A larger wildfire also caused by lightning continues to burn in the northern part of the county.

The Bear Cub Fire saw minimal fire growth over the weekend but has consumed 6,250 acres since it started July 1, according to the U.S. Forest Service.

As of noon on Tuesday, the fire was 3 percent contained. With the recent cooler weather and cloud cover, the fire has eased up on the western portion of the perimeter.

The blaze, which is roughly 27 miles east of Moran in a remote part of Fremont County and the Teton Wilderness, is burning in fallen timber and standing trees killed by bark beetles.

The 2011 Nowlin fire site is located to the north of the Bear Cub Fire and is serving as a natural barrier that's helping reduce fire activity on the new blaze's north side. Fire managers have downsized the incident, the closure area has been reduced and crews, and smokejumpers have been released. The 49 firefighters on scene Saturday have reduced to six.

"This fire is evidence of how quickly a small fire can become active with current vegetation and weather conditions," a Forest Service statement noted.

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