Fire danger ‘high’ as grass, woods dry out
By Angus M. Thuermer Jr., Jackson Hole, Wyoming
June 22, 2012
Officials raised the fire danger rating to high Thursday, cautioning residents and visitors of unusually dry conditions and warm temperatures.
The elevated rating applies throughout Teton County, including the Bridger-Teton National Forest and Grand Teton National Park. Jackson Hole Fire/EMS, in conjunction with federal Teton Inter-agency fire managers, said residents and visitors should exercise caution and practice heightened fire safety.
“We didn’t have the fuel moisture coming out of winter,” Jackson Hole Fire/EMS Chief Willy Watsabaugh said Thursday. “Typically we don’t see these indices early in the year.”
The winter ended with a snowpack below normal, and unseasonably warm temperatures in April and May melted much of what accumulated, officials said. June also was dry, according to interagency firefighters.
Fire managers consider the moisture of grasses, shrubs and trees, weather forecasts and the ability of fire to spread before determining danger ratings. They also consider the availability of firefighting resources, along with humidity and the potential for strong winds.
Jackson Hole usually does not reach high fire-danger rating before mid-July. More severe ratings are very high and extreme.
High danger means fires can start easily and spread quickly.
Managers looked at fires in Colorado and Wyoming in making their assessment, Watsabaugh said. Federal drought maps show abnormally dry conditions on the fringes of Jackson Hole, moderate drought just beyond and extreme drought in the southwest part of the state.
In addition to dry conditions, trees killed by pine beetles are a potential problem, Watsabaugh said.
“We have a pretty long fire season ahead,” he said.
The season is shaping up to mimic 2007 when fire danger went to high on June 25, fire managers said in a statement. That year, the Horse Creek Fire south of Jackson started June 21 and burned 8,950 acres.
For now, officials are simply cautioning residents and visitors about campfires. So far this year, campers have abandoned 16 campfires in the Bridger-Teton National Forest and Grand Teton National Park.
“It is extremely important that all campfires are completely extinguished and cold to the touch before campers leave their site,” officials said. “Visitors should never leave a fire unattended, and should have a water bucket and shovel on hand to extinguish their campfires.”
A person who abandons a campfire is subject to a $225 fine, which is just the liability iceberg. Campers also can be held to account for firefighting costs if a campfire becomes a wildfire.