Fire moves northward

By: 
Hannah Gross

Hannah Gross

NLJ Correspondent

 

After a rainy spring, the weather has taken a turn and entered quickly into fire season. 

After Weston County Fire Warden Daniel Tysdal and his crew put out two fires in Weston County on Monday — one in Ferguson Canyon and the other south of Newcastle by the LAK ranch along the  railroad tracks — they received a call later that day from the Crook County Emergency Management team that the Fish Wildfire seven miles south of Sundance was heading toward Weston County. 

The fire almost crossed the Weston County border during the night Monday, but thanks to the efforts of Tysdal and 17 other Weston County residents, it was thwarted from entering the county. 

“They were able to keep it out of Weston County,” said Gilbert Nelson, Weston County’s Emergency Management coordinator, on Tuesday morning. “We thought it was going to (cross the county line)…
it pushed hard towards Weston County last night, but it died down.”

The fire was reported at 11:30 a.m. on Sunday, July 31, and had spread over 500 acres as of 7 p.m. that day, according to a Sunday press release from the Black Hills National Forest. A press release from Wildfire Today on Tuesday stated that the fire was a human-caused fire on private property, and a PC12 multi-mission aircraft from Colorado on the scene revealed that the fire had reached 527 acres as of noon on Monday, threatening the Canyon Springs subdivision.

By Tuesday afternoon, the fire had spread to 6,500 acres, according to a Crook County Emergency Management release at 3 p.m. Tuesday. 

Fire is always a possibility during periods of drought and high temperature, and can bring about fear and trepidation among those who live in areas near an outbreak.

Barry and Ashley Martin, who live outside of Sundance on Highway 585, came home from Cheyenne Frontier Days on Sunday afternoon to see smoke coming over the hillside. With the help of some friends, they moved their furniture and chickens and spent the night at the home of Barry’s parents, Bob and Carla Martin, outside of the fire zone. 

They returned the following morning to check on things, and Ashley said the fire had spread significantly. At one point, it looked like her landlord’s house was going to be consumed by the flames. 

“You’re totally out of control with what mother nature does.  … It’s definitely been scary seeing flames in your backyard,” Martin said. 

Although the wind conditions and preventive efforts of the firefighters have placed Weston County in a better position, Nelson said the potential is still there for the fire to spread. Newcastle High School is ready to be set up for Weston County residents who need to evacuate and are seeking shelter. 

“Hopefully, we won’t need any of those services, but we have those ready just in case,” Nelson said Tuesday morning. “I’ve seen fires jump highways, depending on weather.” 

Tysdal noted that Weston County is not out of the woods yet, and the fire could still cross the border. For now, he and his team want to help their friends and neighbors in Crook County however they can.  

Additionally, an air quality alert was issued by the Wyoming Air Quality Division at 11:03 a.m. on Tuesday, effective until 1 p.m. the next day, for northeast Wyoming. According to Keith Guille, the Department of Environmental Quality outreach program coordinator, it is wise to limit outdoor activities, especially if the smoke can be seen, tasted or smelled. 

Guille also encouraged people to seek the advice of their health physicians and be aware of the information put out by the National Weather Service. Real-time monitors can be viewed at wyviznet.com. 

“The smoke impact is enormous for the whole region here,” Tysdal said. 

Additionally, the highway was shut down for a period of time for safety reasons. 

 “An area closure is in place that is south of Clark Road to Reynolds Road, south to Moskee and west to Wyoming Highway 585. For public and firefighter safety, the public is asked to stay away from the area until it is safe to return,” the Monday BHNF release stated. It opened up again Tuesday afternoon, according to the Tuesday Crook County release. 

“Resources from Crook County, U.S. Forest Service and State of Wyoming Division of Forestry are actively engaged in suppression efforts. Air attack resources including a Type 1 (heavy) helicopter and air tankers are also being used,” the BHNF release said. 

According to the Wildfire Today release on Tuesday morning, a Wyoming Type 3 Incident Management team was ordered to manage the fire.

“It is a fairly big air show for that part of the country. We checked a flight tracking app late in the afternoon Monday and spotted four large air tankers at the fire or at the Rapid City Tanker Base,” the Wildfire Today release stated. “There are also two Type 1 helicopters and a Type 3 helicopter assisting firefighters.”

That release also stated that residents from Canyon Springs Road to the south end of the fire and east of Highway 585 were still under evacuation. 

Martin said that the firefighters having been working hard to contain the fire and are ready to take immediate action if embers catch. She said she is grateful for the help of the firefighters and the community as they work through this natural disaster. 

“Seeing the community come together was amazing,” Martin said. “It’s looking like, as of now, things are going to be okay… and Lord willing, it will stay that way.”

Tysdal reminded people to be aware of the high fire dangers and the open burning restrictions in place to prevent fires like this from occurring.

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