wildfires

Melodie Edwards

In the last few years, researchers have discovered the earth is literally filled with microbes, those little single-celled critters we sometimes call germs. They’ve even been found living as deep as the earth’s core. And they say these microbes could help us gain access to thousands of years of knowledge. Now scientists at the University of Wyoming want to use those layers of ancient history to help us recover from wildfires as the climate warms up.

Melodie S. Edwards / Wyoming Public Radio

It’s year two in a major project to catalog the microbes of Wyoming, and now University of Wyoming scientists have a robot to help them do the job.

One of the world’s biggest firefighting aircraft is based in Colorado Springs. But it's fighting fires in California right now, rather than in the Mountain West.

So far around 60 wildfires are burning on 700,000 acres of land nationwide. Here’s a look at the 2018 fire season in our region and the forecast for the summer.

Eric Quinney / Uinta County Fire Protection

The Twin Ridge Fire in Evanston quickly burned 73 acres of brush the afternoon of July 4th, coming right up to the edge of a neighborhood. No homes or structures were lost.

Fires are burning in Colorado, Utah and there’s fire danger in other parts of the Mountain West. Now three U.S. Congressmen from Colorado have introduced legislation that would make it a felony to fly a drone over a wildfire. Drones can make fighting fires more difficult and put lives at risk.

https://inciweb.nwcg.gov/incident/5836/

The Badger Creek Fire in southern Wyoming’s Medicine Bow National Forest was downgraded to a Type 3 incident Thursday. That means the fire is less intense and requires less personnel. The fire, which started on June 10 caused the evacuation of several mountain communities. 

This year’s federal firefunding fix brought a sigh of relief among many in the Mountain West.

It will pump billions of dollars into firefighting efforts over the next decade. But not all wildfires are fought by the federal government.  

Many are fought at the state level with dwindling state funds.  

U.S. Marine Corps

Target shooting is a popular activity on public lands across our region. It's also the second leading human cause of wildfires.

inciweb.nwcg.gov/incident/5836/

At over 5,000 acres as of Wednesday morning, the Badger Creek Fire continues to grow near the Medicine Bow National Forest in southern Wyoming close to the Colorado border.

Map of the wildfire's current spread as of 6/12 at 4:40 pm.
Incident Information System; U.S. Forest Service; Medicine Bow National Forest

The Badger Creek Fire in southern Wyoming’s Medicine Bow National Forest just north of the Colorado border has spread to over 2300 acres since Sunday. The wildfire has two heads and is moving both north and east causing several communities to evacuate and Highway 230 to close. Also, Highway 10 is closed from Woods Landing to the Colorado state line. It has grown primarily due to wind.

Wildfire season is ramping up in the region. Fire teams are now working to quash one outside Durango, Colorado, and Utah recently stopped another. That state is now doing prescribed burns to reduce the chance of a bigger blaze.

Each summer, thousands of firefighters devote long hours to putting out wildfires. At the end of each day, they retreat to camp a safe distance away where they can relax and recharge to be ready for their next shift. And also get fed. For the Mountain West News Bureau’s Faces Behind the Fire series, we talk to the man in charge of the kitchen.

 


United States Department of Agriculture

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue was in Wyoming as part of a tour of the Mountain West. Secretary Perdue Wyoming Public Radio’s Bob Beck that he is getting a lot of feedback from producers over tariff and trade issues and how that might hurt Wyoming producers.

Maggie Mullen

Every summer, it takes a village to fight wildfires. For this upcoming season, we spoke with all kinds of people that lend a hand, from those on the frontlines, to others working a bit further back from the flames. For the Faces Behind the Fire series, Maggie Mullen talked to an archeologist with the U.S. Forest Service who helps decide what needs be preserved and what can be left to burn.


Rowdy Muir started fighting fires on the front lines when he was 27.

Fire experts say this season could be big for wildfires in our region. Our Mountain West New Bureau takes you behind the scenes with stories about the people who protect our communities, land and wildlife during wildlfire season. 

This story is about the people who rush into the smoke not to save people or structures, but … animals.  

Wildfire season is ramping up across our region. There are all sorts of people involved in waiting, watching and fighting them -- people you might not expect. We’re profiling some of them in a series, Faces Behind The Fires.


While Colorado and Utah are prepping for a severe wildfire season this year, Montana, Wyoming and northern Idaho have been counting their lucky stars because all three states had a huge snowpack this season.

“We have the best snowpacks in the country,” said meteorologist Michael Richmond.

When all that snow melts, it’ll keep the forest wet and protected from fire.

However that doesn’t mean the region is free and clear.  Richmond said it may get hotter and drier than usual this summer. A lot of heat and no rain can dry out a forest within a week or two.

CREDIT JOHN MCCOLGAN, BUREAU OF LAND MANAGEMENT, ALASKA FIRE SERVICE

When it comes to being prepared for an emergency, much of our region lags behind the rest of the country. That's according to a new report from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

The omnibus spending bill passed by Congress last month earmarked billions of dollars for fighting wildfires.  Many conservationists and politicians celebrated that change.

But the legislation also rolls rolls back some environmental protections and that has split the conservation community.

For years, Western lawmakers have been trying to change the way we fight wildfires, or at least the way the government funds such work. Now, they may finally get that wish. Congress just passed a measure that would do just that, creating an emergency fund of $20 billion for the Forest Service to fight wildfires over the next decade. It's part of a sweeping new spending deal that the President signed on Friday.

Montana Gov. Steve Bullock has been pushing for years to make this change.

Jeannie Stafford / USFWS

A new scientific study suggests as wildfires become more frequent, sage grouse populations in the West will decline because of a loss of habitat. 

The study was published in the scientific journal PNAS and shows that if sagebrush continues to burn at the rate it has in recent decades, sage grouse populations will be halved in 30 years. 

Cheyenne Board of Public Utilities

Cheyenne’s drinking water may see an impact in the coming years due to a fire currently burning in Medicine Bow National Forest. The Snake Fire began September 10 and has burned 2,452 acres. Some of the fire is burning near Hog Park Reservoir, a major provider of Cheyenne’s drinking water.

Dena Egenhoff, a spokeswoman for Cheyenne’s Board of Public Utilities, said the water from Hog Park isn’t directly used as drinking water, but is traded with Rob Roy reservoir since that location is easier to transport water from.

Maggie Mullen

Fighting wildfires increasingly relies on new technology, like drones and a web program that traces every lightning strike in real time. But in the Black Hills of Northeastern Wyoming, the most basic technology is still relied on—the human eye.

Warren Peak Lookout Tower is six miles Northwest of Sundance. It’s at 6,710 feet and it’s breezy. Karen Maloy is the lookout for Warren Peak. It’s her 11th season. She’s worked at towers across the country. Her first assignment was in college.

National Wildlife Coordinating Group

Two hundred and fifty additional homes are being evacuated because of the spreading Lava Mountain Fire in Fremont County.

The Western Montana Fire Incident Management Team issued new evacuation orders Monday for residents and campers in the Union Pass, Porcupine, Hat Butte and Warm Springs areas. Firefighters have been preparing homes and structures in the area in the event the blaze did spread.

“(Firefighters) have really gone through a lot of effort and done everything possible to prepare for this potential,” said spokeswoman Hailey Graf.

National Interagency Fire Center

Teton County health officials are warning people living in communities near wildfires about lower air quality.

Wildfire smoke has particles in it from burning material that when inhaled can be harmful on the body, especially during exercise. These particles can irritate an individual’s eyes, lungs and throat.

“You know, it’s not a good time when it’s really smoky out to go run to the top of the mountain,” Rachael Wheeler of Teton County Public Health said. “You don’t really want to aggravate your body when the air isn’t clean.”

BLM Wyoming

New fire restrictions for public lands in Sheridan, Johnson, and Campbell counties will go into effect Friday. Those counties been dry and hot in recent weeks, and lightning strikes have caused two fires in the area.

The new Bureau of Land Management restrictions will prohibit things like building fires outside of designated fire grates and smoking on public lands. 

InciWeb

A fire near Sundance that burned one home and several outbuildings is now 75 percent contained and an evacuation order for the area has been lifted. 

A lightning strike ignited the Kara Creek Fire on Friday, and strong winds over the weekend propelled its growth to more than 12,000 acres.

Smoke from the fire briefly shut down I-90 on Saturday, as crews built a fire break. In a statement, the fire incident commander said there has been an outpouring of support from nearby communities.

Wikimedia Commons

Officials are gaining control of Wyoming’s largest wildfire this year. A 225-acre is about 90 percent under control as of Wednesday while two out of three smaller fires have been put out near the town of Ten Sleep. Bureau of Land Management officials expect all fires to be extinguished by Wednesday.

Bureau of Land Management Worland Field Office Manager Rance Neighbors said they weren’t expecting significant wildfires this early.

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