News of Riverton, Lander and Fremont County, Wyoming, from the Ranger's award winning journalists.
Firefighters combat natural and manmade blazes
Jul 2, 2013 - By Katie Roenigk, Staff Writer
Local fire officials said they weren't surprised by the one-acre fire they extinguished June 24 roughly 12 miles west of Lysite.
The blaze reportedly started June 22, when the National Weather Service warned of wind gusts combined with low humidity and high temperatures. Fremont County Fire Protection District deputy chief Dan Oakley said his agency is on the lookout for fires whenever the NWS issues a "red flag" warning.
"I can't say we get more prepared, (but there's) that heightened level of awareness," Oakley said. "We're going to sit there and wait and wonder."
Oakley said a thunderstorm rolled through Fremont County during a red flag warning June 22. It was lightning from that thunderstorm that reportedly caused the fire west of Lysite.
"That's typical with lightning," Oakley said. "It's two to four days later before the fire's actually discovered."
He said the tree likely smoldered until high winds June 24 blew sparks and ash through the surrounding sagebrush, igniting a fire that spread to cover about one acre of land. A railroad worker reported seeing smoke and flames in the area at about 3:20 p.m. June 24.
Four battalions responded to the fire with eight trucks and 14 firefighters. Oakley said their biggest challenge was accessing the blaze, which "had the potential to run."
"This was an access issue," Oakley said. "There were really no roads to this fire. We had to make roads, then walk to it."
They cleared the scene by 8:30 p.m. June 24, he said.
So far, this year's fire season is "nothing like it was last year at this point," Oakley said. But he still urged residents to use caution during the dry and windy summer months, especially with the Fourth of July coming up.
"They didn't ban fireworks this year and haven't issued all these warnings, (but) you still need to be careful," Oakley said. "Unfortunately, fireworks do get into light grass and do cause fires. ... Take some precautions and make sure you have a fire extinguisher close or a garden hose."
He also asked forest users to make sure campfires are fully extinguished so hot ashes won't spread in the wind. Oakley said a blaze that started at an abandoned campsite on South Pass recently grew to cover about 30 square feet before it was quickly extinguished by the U.S. Forest Service.
"It was a campfire that was not extinguished properly that escaped," Oakley said. "Somebody went and put the water on it (but) didn't do it enough."
The NWS issued another red flag warning June 25, but conditions were better on June 26, with temperatures at 55-60 degrees and winds from the west at 10-15 miles per hour.
"We know fire season has the potential to be bad," Oakley said. "We have a lot of fuels out there, so people just need to be careful. ... If you see smoke or fire someplace it shouldn't be, let somebody know."