In June of last year, the Badger Creek fire already ravaged more than 20,000 acres in and around the Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest, threatening homes in small towns like Mountain Home, Woods Landing and Fox Park near the Colorado border. The fire was finally declared 100% contained July 26, according to the National Forest Service.
Fortunately, this spring has seen above-average rainfall, which has delayed the fire season, Gerald Claycomb, fire weather program leader for the National Weather Service in Cheyenne, told the Laramie Boomerang. Although the storms have kept the grasses green and tall, he cautioned it’s a bit of a “double-edged sword.”
“When the rain shuts off in August after the monsoon, there’s going to be plenty of fuel for when the grasses go dormant and things begin to dry out,” Claycomb said. “We kind of have a delayed onset to the fire season this year, but we’re not totally out of the woods yet.”
Claycomb said southeastern Wyoming typically sees two fire seasons, one in the spring when the wind is still strong, and one in the late summer-early fall. This year, heavy precipitation has negated the first season, but the real concern is what the weather will look like post-Cheyenne Frontier Days in mid-July.
“By the middle of August probably until our first good snowfall — which could occur early-October into mid-October or so — we could be in for a pretty good fire season,” Claycomb said.
On Tuesday afternoon, the wildfire danger was listed at moderate for the Snowy Range and Sierra Madres mountains, according to the Casper Interagency Dispatch Center, which coordinates wildfire response in Albany County with the Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Forest Service and the Wyoming State Forestry Division, among other agencies.
The NWS and the USFS work together to measure potential fire risk, with the USFS checking vegetation conditions and the NWS monitoring humidity and wind speeds.
“What we look for is afternoon humidity getting down below 15% and wind gusts to 25 miles per hour — that’s our red flag criteria,” Claycomb said. “At the same time, the fuel’s got to be receptive for the rapid spread of fire. Right now, we’re not getting any of those (criteria), but it’s going to happen.”
The U.S. Forest Service issued a news release July 3 to caution campers and outdoor enthusiasts to make sure to fully extinguish campfires before leaving them unattended.
“Fire personnel on the Medicine Bow Routt National Forest and Thunder Basin National Grassland have responded recently to multiple unattended or escaped campfires which were not fully extinguished and required attention,” the news release said.
To ensure a campfire is properly extinguished, campers should pour water on the coals and burnt debris while stirring them to make sure properly cooled.
Additionally, campers should double-check weather forecasts to make sure the area is not under a fire weather watch or a red flag warning before setting out on an expedition.
“They can certainly save the firefighters and the state a lot of money if they heed the forecast,” Claycomb said.
Beyond campfire concerns, outdoor enthusiasts should also be cognizant of other potential ignition sources, including cigarette butts, gunfire and cars driving through or parked in tall grass. The hot tailpipe, the USFS news release said, can set dried-out grasses aflame.
For updated wildfire risk ratings, go to www.gacc.nifc.gov/rmcc/dispatch_centers/r2cpc or call the Laramie Ranger District Office at 745-2300.