Jun 23, 2017 - By Katie Roenigk, Staff WriterFloods, moisture portend 'an incredible fire season'
All of the moisture that has been running through - and spilling over - Fremont County waterways has an unexpected relationship to the level of fire danger locally.
The ground may be sopping, causing a false sense of security for people burning ditches or having camp fires, but that moisture actually leads to an excess of vegetation that quickly cures in the summer heat.
The vegetation - known to emergency officials as "fuel" - creates an increased risk of unintentional or runaway fires, two of which took place Thursday on the outskirts of Riverton.
No one was injured in either incident.
The larger fire began at about 5:30 p.m. Thursday on Cowboy Lane, where some embers blew out of a burn barrel and ignited the nearby weeds, Riverton Volunteer Fire Department chief Cory Higgs said Friday.
The flames traveled quickly on the wind to reach two nearby trailers, one of which was occupied. Higgs said the woman living there was able to evacuate safely, but her trailers were destroyed, along with a vehicle.
Twenty firefighters responded to the call along with two command trucks, two engine companies and three tankers. Higgs said they were on scene three hours, and they had to return to the area at about 10:15 p.m. Thursday to extinguish a tree that had reignited.
"It was just sparking a little bit," Higgs said.
A smaller crew had responded at about 9:50 a.m. Thursday to a grass fire on Charbonneau Drive. Higgs said that incident also involved a burn barrel. He explained that the resident was using a sprayer to wet down the ground around the burn barrel, but the hose malfunctioned, giving the flames a chance to spread.
"It just took off," Higgs said.
He guessed the blaze covered about 100 yards of ground. Two tankers and eight firefighters were on scene for about an hour, Higgs said.
He cautioned residents to be safe when burning ditches and trash.
"Things are going to start drying out," Higgs said. "If you're going to burn ... please do it in the early morning and have plenty of water on hand."
Even a couple of stray sparks can set a field of cheat grass ablaze, National Weather Service meteorologist Chuck Baker said Tuesday.
"If somebody, say, has a flat tire on a trailer and drives down the road on a rim for a while, the sparks will light that stuff," he said, referring to cheat grass. "It burns like gasoline under the hot, dry, windy conditions. ... Those things are going to start happening."
Thick timber isn't as flammable, but fire danger in the forest will increase as the summer wears on and mountain grass begins to cure, Baker said, especially considering the amount of beetle-killed trees that remain in the wilderness.
"We could see an incredible fire season," he said.
Baker also pointed out that more tourists than usual are expected to visit the area this summer for the Aug. 21 total eclipse that passes over Fremont County. It will be important to educate people who are unfamiliar with the area about the dangers of unsafe fires.
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