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Fire danger, drought are cranked to ‘high’

Posted: Monday, Jun 25th, 2012

SUBLETTE COUNTY – With no new precipitation and strong, moisture-drawing winds, drying grasses and trees in the landscapes around Sublette County hold the potential to be kindling for major wildfires.

Monday, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) announced intensive fire restrictions in its lands managed by the Kemmerer and Rock Springs field offices, joining the Rawlins field office’s restrictions – except for fully enclosed grills or stoves with spark arrester screens, approved fire grates and stoves using pressurized fuel.

Smoking in those regions is also restricted to bare three-foot areas that have nothing flammable.

The only reason the BLM’s Pinedale region hasn’t seen stricter fire restrictions yet on the public lands it manages, according to spokeswoman Shelley Gregory, is due to Sublette County’s higher altitude.

“The elevation of the Pinedale Field Office area is helping to mitigate the weather and fuel conditions,” she said Friday.

Besides the heightened fire danger, the current lack of rainfall led Gov. Matt Mead Friday to ask Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack to declare the entire state an

agricultural disaster area, except Teton County.

‘High’ danger

Also last week, the Forest Service issued a “high” fire danger warning throughout the Bridger-Teton National Forest (BTNF).

Thursday, BLM and BTNF officials issued the elevated “high” fire danger level on public lands where restrictions are now in place.

“A high fire danger rating means that fires can start easily and spread quickly,” stated the announcement. “When determining fire danger ratings, fire managers use several indices such as: the moisture content of grasses, shrubs and trees; projected weather conditions (including temperatures and possible wind events); the ability of fire to spread after ignition; and the availability of firefighting resources across the country.

By Friday, the BLM, BTNF, Teton Interagency Fire and county officials, as well as the state parks division and Grand Teton National Park, imposed extra restrictions on an expanded area including Uinta, Teton and Sweetwater counties along with most of the state’s eastern counties.

“The potential for fire activity has increased due to very dry vegetation combined with warm temperatures, low humidity and strong winds. Local residents and visitors alike should exercise caution and practice heightened fire safety at all times,” said BTNF spokeswoman Mary Cernicek.

Also on Friday, Sublette County was following the “high” fire danger level issued by the BLM and BTNF and was monitoring the local “live fuel moistures,” according to fire warden TJ Hunt.

“I talked to the BLM and the Forest Service today and we probably won’t do any (tougher) restrictions for two to three weeks, depending on the weather,” Hunt said.

He said they will all continue to monitor moisture levels in live fuels such as grass, shrubs, brush and trees, and said when those dry out below a comfortable level fire restrictions will probably be put in place everywhere – private lands and public.

The danger comes from having two past good growing seasons where grasses and brush grew well and are now dried out; other factors are the vast numbers of dead or dying beetle-killed trees.

Combining increased dried fuels with a low-snow winter and low precipitation level for this spring and summer means the public must be “very diligent” in using fires, he said.

Cernicek said the Teton Interagency Fire area “typically does not reach high fire danger prior to mid July.”

“This year is tracking similar to 2007, when the area was elevated to high fire danger on June 25, very high fire danger on July 1 and extreme fire danger on July 5.”

She pointed out the Horse Creek Fire, between Daniel and Big Piney, started on June 21, 2007 and burned 8,590 acres in the Big Piney District of the BTNF.

On Monday, the BTNF and Teton Interagency Fire reported a 100-acree blaze named the Fontenelle Fire 33 miles northwest of La Bare, with a total of 12 active firefighters including eight smoke jumpers, with one helicopter and more engines requested.


Gov. Mead’s request for an agricultural disaster declaration for all of Wyoming except Teton County, for potential federal assistance, did not have a response at press time.

“Wyoming farmers and ranchers are struggling to work through serious impacts caused by drought,” Mead wrote. “Over the past month, county commissioners throughout Wyoming have requested agricultural disaster designations for the 2012 agricultural production year. After consultation with the Wyoming Farm Service Agency it is clear that every Wyoming county with the exception of Teton County has suffered grazing loss and dryland hay loss in excess of the disaster threshold.”

For the complete article see the 06-26-2012 issue.

Click here to purchase an electronic version of the 06-26-2012 paper.

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