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Officials to give wildfire update at public meeting

Aug 21, 2012 - By Christina George, Staff Writer

Officials are having a public meeting Tuesday in Fort Washakie to update residents about the Alpine Lake Fire that's been burning for more than two weeks in the nearby mountain range.

Public information officer Karl Brauneis said the meeting begins at 7 p.m. at Rocky Mountain Hall, also known as Rock Hall. Fire managers and a fire weather meteorologist will be on hand to discuss the local fire history, the Wind River Agency's Wildland Fire Management Plan, the present fire situation and a long-term assessment for the wildfire.

The Alpine Lake Fire experienced some growth last weekend and is now estimated to be 2,600 acres in size.

A helicopter crew spent Tuesday in the air trying to determine if the fire expanded. The latest figures were not available by press time.

Brauneis said about 1/10 of an inch of moisture fell over the fire area late Sunday. Combined with cooler temperatures, the moisture helped suppress the fire.

"But there is no major moisture on the horizon, so it can get larger," Brauneis said.

About 95 acres of the adjoining Fitzpatrick Wilderness within the Shoshone National Forest burned Friday, bringing the forest acreage total up to 108. Brauneis said there is a cooperative effort between the Wind River Agency and the Forest Service on the incident. He said at this time there is little concern the fire will expand into the national forest because there is a lot of rock in the area.

"There's not much area it can go," he said.

Backcountry users first reported the fire Aug. 7. The cause remains under investigation.

The Unaweep and Bighorn Wildland Fire modules are still monitoring the fire. The crews, which were air lifted into the area last week, are also collecting field data for assistance in the long-term planning and management of the fire.

The fire is located about 15 miles up drainage of the Bull Lake Reservoir. There is a buffer of rugged rock, water and lakes assisting in limiting the fire's growth potential.

From the beginning, the fire has been managed under the Wind River Wildland Fire Management Plan for firefighter and public safety as well as resource benefits. A long-term fire behavior analyst and a strategic operational planner are assigned to assist in the development of a planning area and long-term course of action with trigger points to further manage the incident.

Despite the recent growth, Brauneis said the present plan of having no firefighters suppressing the blaze on the ground is still in place. He said the reason is firefighters' safety given rugged and in-accessible terrain. He said there is not a limit in burned acreage that must be met before firefighters are put on the ground.

"There is still a lot more acreage in the planning area that can burn," Brauneis said. "Our preference would be to have a 3,000- to 4,000-acre fire."

At present time, the fire growth potential is estimated at 3,000 to 5,000 acres in the next week.

Brauneis reiterated there are some trigger points in the area fire crews could be put to suppress the fire, but those decisions would be made down the road.

The trail from Windy Ridge into Deadman and Alpine lakes remain closed as well as the Mark Tree trail accessing Alpine Lake from the Fitzpatrick Wilderness to the reservation boundary.

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