Fire burnout ‘just textbook’
By Emma Breysse, Jackson Hole, Wyoming
September 13, 2012
A planned “burnout” on the western edge of the Horsethief Canyon wildfire sent up ominous smoke Wednesday afternoon but behaved as officials had hoped.
The fire also was “scootching out a bit” to the southeast early Wednesday evening, but crews did not consider the outbreak serious, fire spokeswoman Traci Weaver said. Firefighting leaders considered the burnout, conducted to reduce fuels inside the fire’s perimeter, “just textbook” and “going just the way it should,” she said.
Many Jackson residents feared a smoke column billowing over Snow King Mountain signaled a new threat. Authorities quickly sent out word of the burnout tactic.
Fire crews have worked for two days to prepare the ridges on the western flank of the fire for the burn, which was intended to establish a more secure perimeter. The burnout greatly reduced the risk that an ember would spread the fire in that area and send it toward the communications towers on Snow King, Jackson/Teton County Fire Marshal Kathy Clay said Tuesday.
Jackson Hole Fire/EMS Chief Willy Watsabaugh was optimistic at a meeting Wednesday when he spoke to town, county and airport officials.
“Currently, the fire is doing what we hoped it would do,” Watsabaugh said. “Every day we have the winds and weather in our favor — and we’ve had the winds and weather in our favor since Sunday — it’s a good thing.”
East Jackson residents who have been packed and ready to leave since Monday said they are still ready, but hope they will not be forced out. The mood in the evacuation advisory area was calmer than it was three days ago.
“I feel pretty comfortable now they seem to have a handle on things,” said Town Councilman Greg Miles, who lives on Rancher Street. “My things are still in the van, so it’s there in the event we get a call, because you never know. But I think people around here are pretty upbeat.”
Miles’ home is on the western edge of the evacuation advisory area, which was reduced Wednesday to neighborhoods south of Broadway, east of Rancher Street, south of Cache Creek Drive, west of Redmond Street, south of East Kelly Avenue and east of Vine Street. A map of the updated advisory area can be found here.
Several homes in that area sported signs thanking firefighters and police for their efforts since the fire started Saturday afternoon south of Jackson near the mouth of Wilson Canyon. Watsabaugh established the advisory area in east Jackson after the blaze grew rapidly to the northeast Sunday into the ridges south of Cache Creek.
Jackson police officers and Teton County sheriff’s deputies have patrolled east Jackson since then, and Teton County Emergency Management has sent out regular text message updates via Nixle. Sign up for that service through this link: Nixle.com.
Officers on patrol Wednesday said they have been impressed at the community response to the warnings.
“I’ve found it really interesting that as many people actually prepared to leave as did,” said Jackson Police Sgt. Tony Matthews, who was stationed on Hansen Avenue. “That’s pretty cool, to know that people are actually responding to what we’re putting out and they’re preparing the way they should.”