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Cellars fire kicks off fire season

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Photo courtesy of Daniel Tysdal Responders to the Cellars Fire, which began near the intersection of Wyoming Highways 250 and 116, move near the fire line. The fire began on June 27 and burned 283 acres in total.
By
Alexis Barker, NLJ News Editor

283 acres lost to season’s first blaze in Weston County

Fire season officially got underway in Weston County when the Cellars fire burned 283 acres on June 27, according to Fire Warden Daniel Tysdal. At the same time, fire conditions have worsened across the county, sparking the reinstitution of fire bans.

“To this point we have been relatively lucky in not having numerous fires yet; however our fire danger has increased to high and even very high the past few weeks as conditions have deteriorated rapidly across the county,” he said in an email. “Grasses have cured across the southern portion of the county, and the live fuel moisture in our timber fuel model is extremely low — these factors, along with the hot temperatures and windy conditions we’ve been experiencing lately can lead to critical fire conditions.”

These conditions lead to the unknown human-caused Cellars fire at the intersection of state Highways 250 and 116. According to Tysdal, the fire quickly grew to 283 acres, despite an aggressive initial attack that included 26 engines, four tenders, two blades, one dozer, two SEATS (single engine air tanker), three command units and 55 firefighters on-site.

In addition to the fire professionals, Nicky Groenewold said in a text correspondence with the News Letter Journal that residents were out fighting the fire until the “big boys” said they could go home.

“And an hour later, we got a call to come back. It had jumped 250 and was heading south,” she said.

While the fire was roughly 20 miles down the road from the Groenewold property, she said, they still responded because a neighbor needed their help.

“I hate to say this but we were somewhat relieved to see that it was along the highway (to begin with — started just east of the junction of 116 and 450) because, if it had been lightning-caused, we’d be concerned about leaving our own place unprotected,” Groenewold said.

She noted that the community is “pretty wonderful” because everybody pitches in to help anybody.

As Weston County officials were dealing with their first fire of the summer, the Bureau of Land Management was reinstituting fire restrictions and the National Interagency Fire Center was updating the fire preparedness level to three. Weston County has been back under open burn restrictions since June 13 after the fire ban was lifted due to an improvement in fire conditions earlier this year, according to Tysdal.

Weston County stage 1 fire restrictions include the restriction of the discharge of fireworks and the prohibition of all outdoor fires in unimproved areas of Weston County, except as provided below:

• Only campfires at residences or campsites, within a fire ring centered within a minimum of a 15-foot cleared radius of burnable materials, are permitted.

• Trash or refuse fires between the hours of 6 p.m. and 8 a.m., inside containers provided with a spark arrester and located within a cleared radius of a minimum of 15 feet of burnable materials are permitted.

• Charcoal fires within enclosed grills are permitted.

• Use of acetylene cutting, electric arc welders or metal grinding in a cleared radius of 15 feet of burnable materials is permitted.

• The use of portable stoves, lanterns using gas, jellied petroleum, pressurized liquid fuel or fully enclosed (sheepherder type) stove and open fire branding activities in a cleared radius of 15 feet of burnable materials is permitted.

BLM stage 1 fire restrictions are being placed on BLM-administered public lands in five counties — Weston, Crook, Niobrara, Goshen and Platte. The restrictions were announced on June 26 and took effect immediately.

Under stage 1 fire restrictions, the following acts are prohibited:

• Building, maintaining, attending or using a fire or campfire except within agency-provided fire grates at developed recreation sites, or within fully enclosed stoves with a quarter-inch spark arrester type screen, or within fully enclosed grills, or in stoves using pressurized liquid or gas.

• Smoking, except in an enclosed vehicle or building, a developed recreation site, or while stopped in an area at least 3 feet in diameter that is barren or cleared of all flammable materials.

• Operating a chain saw without a U.S. Department of Agriculture or SAE-approved spark arrester properly installed and working, a chemical fire extinguisher of not less than 8 ounces capacity by weight, and one round-point shovel with an overall length of at least 36 inches.

• Using a welder, either arc or gas, or operating an acetylene or other torch with open flame, except in cleared areas of at least 10 feet in diameter with a chemical pressurized fire extinguisher of not less than 8 ounces capacity.

These restrictions are in addition to year-round wildlife prevention restrictions on BLM-administered lands in Wyoming that include:

• Discharge or use of any fireworks.

• Discharge of a firearm using incendiary or tracer ammunition.

• Burn, ignite or cause to burn any tire, wire, magnesium, or any other hazardous or explosive material.

• Operate any off-road vehicle on public lands unless the vehicle is equipped with a properly installed spark arrester pursuant to 43 CFR 8343.1(c).

• Use/discharge of explosives of any kind, incendiary devices, pyrotechnic devices or exploding targets.

“Wildland fire season is definitely upon us, and we urge folks to use extreme caution with any outdoor activity that could start a fire and to report any fires they do see by calling 911 so resources can respond immediately,” Tysdal concluded.

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