By Ruffin Prevost
CODY, WYO. — As dry, hot weather conditions persist and several wildland fires burn throughout the West, land management agencies across the greater Yellowstone area are issuing warnings of elevated fire danger.
So far, only minor road and campground closures have been required as a result of fires in the area.
The fire danger in Yellowstone National Park has been elevated to very high, and it is listed as high in Grand Teton National Park. Park managers advise visitors and residents to exercise extreme caution.
A fire in the in the Shoshone National Forest near the Beartooth Highway has resulted in the closure of the Fox Creek Campground. The Index Creek Fire was caused by a downed power line and is burning about a mile south of the Montana border. It was reported to be approximately 100 acres and burning in heavy timber Thursday.
One hotshot crew, three engines, and two helicopters are working to suppress the Index Fire near the Beartooth Highway, and additional firefighting resources have been ordered.
Travelers are advised to drive with caution along affected portions of the Beartooth Highway, as smoke may reduce visibility. For public and firefighter safety, drivers are asked to slow down and not stop as they drive through the area.
In the Grand Teton area, fire danger is typically not listed as high until around mid-July. Fire managers report several factors driving the early rise in fire danger, including weak snowpack with an early melt, unseasonably warm temperatures in April and May and a lack of significant rainfall in June.
Fire mangers in the Grand Teton area report that summer 2012 is tracking similarly to 2007, which saw the Horse Creek Fire begin in June of that year and burn 8,590 acres in the Big Piney District of the Bridger-Teton National Forest.
The Fontenelle Fire started on the Kemmerer Ranger District of the Bridger-Teton National Forest, approximately 3 miles west of the Scaler Guard Station, 33 miles northwest of LaBarge, Wyo. LaBarge is about 112 miles south of Jackson, Wyo. The fire covers about 25,000 acres and is burning in heavy, dead timber.
In the Shoshone National Forest, Grand Teton National Park and the Bridger-Teton National Forest, special fire restrictions will be in place beginning Sunday, July 1, and they were enacted in Yellowstone on Friday, June 29.
“The dry conditions we have now are expected to continue, making fuels that are already dry even worse,” said forest supervisor Joe Alexander.
Fire restrictions include: limiting campfires or certain stoves to designated recreation sites; a prohibition on smoking except in vehicles, recreation sites or barren areas; and a prohibition on certain uses of chainsaws, welding gear and blasting caps.
With the Fourth of July approaching, land managers also are reminding residents and visitors that fireworks are illegal on federal lands.
On average, the U.S. Forest Service and various Interior Department agency personnel respond to about 16,500 wildland fires each year that occur on land under their jurisdiction. The two agencies are likely to spend more than $3.5 billion this year fighting fires.
Contact Ruffin Prevost at 307-213-9818 or [email protected].