Bridger-Teton fire casts smoky haze over county

Jun 27, 2012 By Christina George, Staff Writer

Weather officials say the smoke hovering above Fremont County is from the Fontenelle Fire that has scorched 12,000 acres in the Bridger-Teton National Forest.

"There are four active fires over western and central Wyoming, but the smoke in the Riverton area is mostly coming from the Fontenelle Fire," said Dan Berc, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service office in Riverton.

Smoky skies could be seen in parts of the county such as Lander, and residents in Riverton reported being able to smell it.

The other active fires contributing to the hazy skies are the Cato Fire near Buffalo, the Otter Creek Fire by Ten Sleep and the Russell's Camp Fire south of Glenrock.

"There are no major active fires in Fremont County that we know of," Berc said.

A red flag warning remains in effect in central and most of southern Wyoming until 10 p.m. Thursday.

Areas of concern locally are the upper Wind River Basin, the eastern and western sides of the Wind River Mountains, the south portion of the Shoshone National Forest and the east zone of the Bridger-Teton National Forest.

"The combination of hot temperatures, low humidity and increased surface wind will lead to an environment favorable for large, explosive fire growth," states the National Weather Service report.


The dry conditions continue to worsen, as above-average temperatures remained in the area Tuesday, making it the fifth consecutive day of record or near record heat.

The highest temperatures recorded across Wyoming were 105 degrees in Torrington and 104 degrees in Pine Bluffs.

Downtown Riverton experienced a 95-degree high Tuesday, which was 10 degrees above normal.

It reached 92 degrees in Lander, which was also 10 degrees above normal, tying as the city's sixth warmest June 26 in the record book dating to 1892.

Berc said Wednesday's temperatures are expected to be cooler, but will still remain in the 90-degree range.

The slightly cooler weather combined with lighter winds toward the end of the week will help with fire conditions, Berc said, but the potential for danger remains.

"We have very, very dry fuels and low humidity, so the fires that do start will very easily spread," he said. "And we don't foresee any rain for the next week or so in Fremont County."

Berc asks residents to use "extreme caution."

"If you have anything to burn, put it off. For the Fourth of July, if you are going to have fireworks, be careful and make sure any sparks that cause fires are put out," he said. "And when camping, make sure fires are well attended and put completely out. The slightest wind will exacerbate any fire."

Forest fires

Two new wildfires started Tuesday in Wyoming forests, including one in the mountains above Lander.

Shoshone National Forest public affairs officer Kristie Salzmann said firefighters were able to contain a small wildfire near Grannier Meadow south of Louis Lake on the Washakie Ranger District that started Tuesday afternoon. The cause remains under investigation.

Washakie District ranger Steve Schacht said his office has put out more than 75 unattended campfires along the Loop Road since Memorial Day.

"We are very concerned about this trend, especially when combined with the lack of moisture in the area," Schacht said.

The second forest fire reported Tuesday was near the Fox Creek Campground on U.S. Highway 212 south of the Wyoming/Montana border.

Salzmann said a downed power line caused the fire.

"Fire crews responded and have been working through the night on the fire, which is now at approximately 25 acres in size," she said.

Fire calls

Fremont County Fire Protection District chief Craig Haslam said the Missouri Valley Fire Department responded to a call at 3:40 p.m. Tuesday for a minor fire.

"It was manure in a corral that started fire," he said. "We think it was human caused, but are not sure."

At 7:38 p.m. Tuesday someone called police concerning a grass fire on Missouri Valley Road. Haslam confirmed that the smoke the reporting party observed was coming from the Fontenelle Fire.

The biggest scare in the county Tuesday occurred near Lander when roughly eight acres of rural land got charred.

"A homeowner was burning a trash pit and it got away from him," said Lander Rural Fire Department chief Dave Peevey.

Emergency personnel were notified of the fire at about 3:15 p.m.

Firefighters from the Lander rural and city departments as well as Fort Washakie remained on scene for roughly three hours.

Despite concerns for several nearby residences, Peevey said no structures were damaged by blaze.

"With the high winds, we really need people to be extremely careful," Peevey said.

Haslam said as of Wednesday, there were no bans in place within Fremont County, but his agency is in the process of getting approval to put one in effect.


Because of the severe drought conditions, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department has banned open fires on all Game and Fish Commission-owned and administered lands in the Lander and Laramie regions.

The lands where the bans are in place are Red Canyon, Ocean Lake, Whiskey Basin, Table Mountain, Sand Mea, Spence and Moriarty, Chain Lakes, Morgan Creek, Red Rim Daley and Grizzly, Pennock, Wick, Thorne/Williams, Forbes, Spring, Rawhide and Laramie Peak Wildlife Habitat Management areas.

Public access areas within the Lander, Laramie and Green River regions are also affected, as is the Sand Creek public access area in northeastern Wyoming.

The bans prohibit building, maintaining, attending or using a fire, campfire, charcoal grill, coal or wood burning stove, and smoking except within an enclosed vehicle or building, a developed recreation site or while stopped in an area at least 3 feet in diameter that is barren or cleared of all flammable material.

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