Fire Danger Warrants Great Care on Public Lands
Incident: Fontenelle Fire Wildfire
Teton Interagency Fire managers would like to remind visitors of the severe fire danger that currently exists due to hot and dry weather conditions affecting western Wyoming. Visitors and local residents are advised to use extreme caution when recreating on public lands. Most of the natural grasses have cured, so motorists should refrain from driving or parking on dry vegetation.
"Fuel moisture on both the Bridger-Teton National Forest and Grand Teton National Park is extremely low right now," explained Tobin Kelley, Fire Management Officer for Bridger-Teton National Forest. "We measure the amount of moisture in representative fuel types, both live and dead, which is a key factor in determining the Energy Release Component (ERC)." As live fuels cure and dead fuels dry, the ERC values get higher thus providing a good reflection of drought conditions.
Interagency fire specialists continuously monitor fire potential throughout the season. "We have several tools for measuring factors that contribute to wildland fire starts," said Chip Collins, Fire Management Officer for Grand Teton National Park. "One of those tools is a daily fire report that summarizes current and predicted weather as well as estimates for fire potential and the difficulty of containment." Combined with fuel moisture levels, these indicators allow fire managers to make adjustments to staffing levels and management activities.
"We've had a steady downward trend in fuel moisture over the past few weeks," said Kelley. "What that means is that any new starts will burn readily because the fuels are receptive." Kelley went on to say that the ERC as well as the Burning Index (BI), a measure of potential fire intensity, are the tools fire managers use to determine the fire danger rating for the area.
Fire danger rating for the Teton Interagency Zone is Very High, which means fires start easily, spread rapidly and increase quickly in intensity.
The National Fire Danger Rating System (NFDRS) also assists fire management personnel in planning and implementing preparedness and staffing levels. Fire danger indices describe the potential within a geographic area for a fire to start. NFDRS is a tool for fire managers to correlate fire danger with fire business decisions.
"When we as an agency make a decision to implement fire restrictions and keep them in place, there's a lot that goes into that decision" said Kelley. "This is an exceptional year and I think most people realize that. We're not seeing a high number of human caused fires and for that we're very grateful."
Fire restrictions were implemented for both the Park and Forest on July 1. The Bridger-Teton Order was revised August 29 to clarify the use of stove fires. These restrictions include:
• Lighting, building, maintaining, attending or using a fire, campfire, barbecue or grill is allowed only at designated recreation sites such as established campgrounds or picnic areas. Use of portable stoves and lanterns using gas, jellied petroleum or pressurized liquid fuel, or use of a fully enclosed sheepherder type stove with a 5' chimney equipped with spark arrester screen is permitted.
• Smoking is allowed only in an enclosed vehicle, building (unless otherwise prohibited), developed recreation site, or while in an area at least three feet in diameter that is barren or cleared of all flammable materials (i.e. parking lots, developed campsites, or locations surrounded by water).
• Operating a chainsaw is prohibited in national parks. Operating a chainsaw on national forest lands is permitted only when equipped with a USDA or SAE approved spark arrester that is properly installed and in effective working order. Operators must also carry a chemical pressurized fire extinguisher with a minimum rating of 2A and one round point shovel with an overall length of at least 36 inches.
• Discharge of fireworks and use of explosives requiring blasting caps are prohibited.
• Welding is prohibited in national parks. For national forest locations, welding or operating acetylene or other torch with open flame is only allowed in cleared areas of at least 10 feet in diameter. A chemical pressurized fire extinguisher with a minimum rating of at least 2A must be at the location.
Violation of these prohibitions is punishable by a fine of up to $5,000 for an individual or $10,000 for an organization, and/or by imprisonment for more than six months.
Both the Park and Forest have experienced above average fire activity this season. Resources from Teton Interagency Fire responded to a total of 38 fires to date with nine of those being human-caused. Currently, there are five uncontrolled fires burning in the Teton Interagency area: the Lost Creek Fire - 5 acres; the North Buffalo Fire - 8,539 acres; the Butte Creek Fire - 1,170 acres; the Bear Cub Fire - 6,500 acres; and the Fontenelle Fire - 64,215 acres.
Hunting season is also fast approaching and fire managers remind hunters to check fire restrictions for the area they plan to hunt and camp. "We are continually assessing fuel conditions and predicted weather" Kelley says. A significant amount of moisture with season changing weather could affect the fire danger rating and the status of fire restrictions. "Just because it starts to sprinkle, or it's chilly out, doesn't mean the fire danger changes or restrictions will be lifted. We're in a severe drought and it will take a measurable amount of precipitation for an extended duration to have any affect."
Local residents and area visitors are urged to be extremely careful with fire outdoors. Under current conditions, an unattended campfire or tossed cigarette could easily ignite a wildland fire.
"Know Before You Go" Due to potential wildfire danger, check for the latest information on current fires and restrictions in the area where you plan to travel, visit http://www.tetonfires.com/ .