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Fire officials work on plan to fight remote wildfire on rez

Aug 14, 2012 - By Christina George, Staff Writer

Fire officials on the Wind River Indian Reservation are monitoring a wildfire near Alpine Lake that has burned roughly 218 acres since it started a week ago.

Wind River Agency fire management officer Bob Jones said the blaze was first detected by backcountry users on Aug. 7 and had grown to 40 acres before it could be reported to officials. The cause remains under investigation.

"We are monitoring the fire, and the reason that we're doing it is because it's in really extreme and inaccessible terrain for firefighters," Jones said Friday. "We don't want to put firefighters in harm's way."

Jones said the fire is burning in Lodgepole Pine, Whitebark Pine, Engelmann Spruce and Sub-Alpine Fir with rock and needle cast at an elevation of 9,500 to 10,000 feet, roughly 15 miles up drainage of the Bull Lake Reservoir. Fire behavior consists of surface fire with single-tree and group torching, spotting and rolling debris.

"The good news is that it's in very high elevation, and there are a lot of what we call natural barriers -- such as green alpine meadows with water, creeks, lakes and rocks -- that will limit some of the spreading," Jones said. "It's being contained right now by a rock outcropping, kind of a rock barrier.

"But fire is fire," Jones continued. "We really don't know exactly what it is going to do in the future."

The fire is continuing to be monitored by air resources. Three field observers were airlifted Sunday to safe zones near the fire to assist in information gathering on fire behavior and fire weather. Also, helicopter water bucket drops were made Sunday to initiate a check line on the fire's southern perimeter.

A long-term course of action is in the development stage for the fire planning area.

Officials estimate the fire would be contained by Nov. 15. At present, the fire growth potential is estimated at 3,000 acres in the next two weeks.

"The Alpine Lake Fire is in direct line with our cultural traditions of using fire as a tool for stewardship of the creation," said Shoshone Business Council's Ivan Posey in a news release. "In particular, the Shoshone and Sheep Eater Indians used fire to enhance bighorn sheep and elk habitat in the same general area that the fire is burning. Bighorn sheep and elk are integral to our diet, our culture and hunting heritage."

According to a news release from Jones's office, other agencies, including the U.S. Forest Service, will be consulted to assist in reducing any potential risks to the public.

The fire is not threatening human development at present time. There are no trails in the fire area and no trail or public access closures for the surrounding area. Access to this portion of the reservation is controlled through a local outfitter and guide. The Wind River Agency is coordinating with the U.S. Forest Service in the event that the fire crosses on to National Forest System Lands.

Jones said fire movement is likely Tuesday because of warm and dry weather. However, he said a cold front is expected to move into the area Tuesday evening, bringing rain and snow.

"The public can expect days of fire growth under favorable weather conditions and a turn down with cool and wet weather," Jones said in a release.

This time of year is important in managing the blaze, he said.

"We are moving into the critical period of the fire season, but historically, the fire season will drop off by the end of August," he said. Any new fires on the reservation will still be aggressively suppressed, Jones said.

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