On fire: Fire runs rampant across the stateWritten by Saige Albert
“Hundreds of people have been evacuated from their homes already this year and some have lost homes and cabins. We need to keep these people and the firefighters in our thoughts and prayers and each of us needs to be personally responsible by doing everything possible to prevent fires,” Governor Mead said of the fire situation in the state.
Squirrel and Index Creeks
The most recent wildfire in the state is the Squirrel Creek Fire, which started June 30, has encompassed 7,000 acres and is growing.
The Albany County Sheriff’s office issued an expanded Code Red evacuation notice on July 1 to include all resident from Jelm Mountain on the south, north along Sheep Mountain to Highway 130.
“The fire is advancing quickly,” said Albany County Sheriff’s office.
Ground crews have worked to protect structures and complete burnout operations to remove unburned fuels, and air resources worked to slow fire growth as well. Red flag conditions and exceptionally dry fuels have contributed to the active burning and fire growth.
The Index Creek Fire, located on the Shoshone National Forest four miles southeast of Cooke City, Mont., began June 26 as the result of a downed power line.
The 210 acres fire was 25 percent contained on July 2, and crews plan to continue to enforce existing fire lines and continue mop-up, according to inciweb.org.
Fire Information Officer Brandon Hampton notes that the Fontenelle Fire, burning in Lincoln and Sublette County approximately 17 miles west of Big Piney, has covered 54,562 acres and was five percent contained on July 2.
“It is mostly timber with grass and sage,” mentions Hampton. “There is lot of heavy timber and bug killed trees that are affected.”
Hampton adds that the 584 personnel on the fire have been constructing fire line and doing structural protection. Additionally, there are six helicopters and two single engine air tankers, which spray retardant, working the fire.
“They have done a great job of suppressing the fire,” he explains. “Weather has been a considerable factor for the large scale growth of this fire. The wind blows between 10 and 15 miles per hour every afternoon.”
“We don’t see this type of fire behavior in this part of the country or at high elevations very often,” Hampton comments. “These conditions are indicative of a dry spring and a lack of winter moisture.”
The Arapahoe Fire, located approximately 30 miles northwest of Wheatland, has consumed 82,187 acres as of July 2.
“The fire is five percent contained, and we’ve got 575 personnel assigned,” said Fire Information Officer Virginia Gibbons on July 2. “We are very busy with this fire. It has been very erratic, and there have been lots of wind shift and weather pattern changes that make it very difficult for us to predict the direction of fire spread.”
Gibbons adds that there are a number of structures that lie within the perimeter of the fire, so efforts are being focused on burnout operations to protect structures.
“We’ve made some good progress with fire line construction over the last couple of days, but there is a lot of line and open areas that we still need to deal with,” she says.
The impact on farmers and ranchers is a concern, notes Gibbons.
“The local ranchers are taking a big hit with their grass burning, and it is a very unfortunate situation for them,” she says. “We are really trying to make the best of a bad situation, and we understand that people are suffering some big losses. It’s tough for everyone, but we’re trying to help the best that we can.”
However, Gibbons notes, “We still have a fire with a lot of potential on our hands.”
With the prevalence of fire across the state, Gibbons notes that personnel numbers are limited, making fighting the blazes more difficult.
“We’d like to have more crews on the Arapahoe Fire, but when we have this much fire activity in our state and neighboring states, we start to experience a draw on our resources,” she explains. “Competition is thick for crews, and as priorities shift, crews get pulled off one incident to go to others.”
Gibbons continues, “We have a good base of personnel that are working, in addition to the local resources, who have been doing a wonderful job.”
Crews have been pulled from the Pacific Northwest region, including Washington, Idaho and Washington, to help with fire efforts.
“We are throwing all the resources we can at these fires, but it is still early in the season, and the forecast for the rest of the summer is not good. This means all of us must pitch in and do everything we can to prevent fires,” Governor Mead said. “So far our resources have been sufficient, and I thank the National Guardsmen and women, our local and state firefighters, and the firefighters from around the country – all are doing an incredible job in very dangerous conditions.”