By KARLA POMEROY
The Reservoir Fire, located about one-half mile northwest of Shell Reservoir in Big Horn County in the Cloud Peak Wilderness, is being managed for multiple objectives.
Lightning sparked the fire on Sunday, Aug. 28 . On Sunday night, the fire smoldering and creeping, was about one-quarter acre in size in timber, and had ground flame lengths of zero to two feet, according to a Bighorn National Forest press release. Because of a large number of snags (standing dead trees) in the vicinity of the fire, it was not staffed on Sunday night, and a management response was scheduled to begin Monday.
On Monday night, Medicine Wheel/Paintrock District Ranger Dave Hogen said the primary objectives for the fire are firefighter and public safety, point protection around structures and improvements, avoiding the spread of the fire onto private land, and regenerating old, decadent forests to improve age class diversity and wildlife habitat.
Suppression actions could have been taken, with a reasonable probability of success; however, Forest Service managers decided to utilize this natural ignition as an opportunity to regenerate this area of the National Forest.
“The forests where the Reservoir Fire is burning are ready for a regeneration event, such as a fire,” according to Hogen. “Forests change — and the forest in this area is old with a lot of mortality, and this regeneration event will ultimately benefit wildlife habitat conditions over the longterm,” continued Hogen.
Hogen continued, “Managing this fire will give our fire team a chance to manage this fire on our terms, rather than wait for a time when the fire may be out-of-control from the start.”
The forecast for the next few days is favorable, giving the fire team a chance to put defenses in place that will keep the fire on the National Forest and away from the structures. The protective actions may include indirect suppression actions such as burnout operations and fuel break construction.
An incident management team has been ordered, and was tentatively scheduled to take over the management of the fire on Wednesday, Aug. 31.
The near-term weather forecast is for warmer, dry weather for Tuesday and Wednesday, with a better chance for precipitation beginning Thursday morning through Friday. Longer-term, the weather is expected to be warmer and dryer early next week. Hogen continued, “It is possible that the fire may burn for several weeks until significant precipitation occurs.”
In order to insure public safety, closure orders will be issued in the Adelaide Lake/Shell Reservoir area, and on the trails east of the Ranger Creek trailhead. “We are working on making these closures as minimal as possible to provide for public safety, to insure safe and effective fire fighting capability, and provide for recreational opportunities,” according to Hogen.
No county restrictions
Big Horn County Fire Warden Brent Godfrey said while there are some fire restrictions in place around the state, with the fire danger across Wyoming “Very High.” There are no restrictions in Big Horn County at this time. “With hunting season coming up I’m trying to hold off on putting in any restrictions.”
He said the normal wildland fire season begins in early August but the spring moisture has pushed things back and that’s not a bad thing with cooler temperatures and fall moisture expected.
He said people need to use caution with open fires this fall because of the fire danger and because so many firefighting resources are being used across the state on other fires.
The Reservoir Fire was just one of many that started by lightning last weekend.
Other forest fires
Eight fires were reported on the northern portion of the Bighorn National Forest after a series of thunderstorms crossed the mountain on Thursday, Aug. 25.
According to Fire Management Officer Jon Warder, the largest of the fires, West Pass, is about 12 acres. Three of the other fires were staffed by Bighorn National Forest fire crews by approximately 8 pm on Thursday night. Those fires are all under one acre, but are in heavy timber. Those fires are near Bull Elk Park, Garland Gulch, and north of the Burgess Junction Visitor’s Center.
Three additional fires were unstaffed as of 8 p.m. on Thursday night. Two are south of the Kerns winter range in the North Fork of West Creek drainage, and the other is in the Garland Gulch vicinity. According to Warder, “These three fires were all reported to be less than one acre, but are in areas of heavy timber with very difficult access.” The plan was to staff these fires on Friday.
One fire near the head of Bear Gulch along the Red Grade Road was contained by the Big Horn Volunteer Fire Department by about 5 p.m. on Thursday.
“With the amount of lightning that occurred, we are anticipating that other fires will show themselves tomorrow as the day heats up,” according to Warder. Additional resources ordered for Friday included three hot shot crews, one load of smokejumpers, one helicopter, and additional Bighorn NF resources. There is some competition for firefighting resources with multiple large fires across Montana and Wyoming.
According to Warder, “Given the number of fires and the weather forecast for the next week, we are going to aggressively manage these fires.”
With early hunting season beginning and the Labor Day weekend approaching, District Ranger Clarke McClung reminded forest visitors to be careful with fire. The fire danger is rated “Very High.” “While there are no restrictions in place on the Bighorn National Forest, these fires show that the forest is drying out”, according to McClung.
Good progress was made on the other fires sparked by lightning on Thursday, August 25. “A total of 10 fires started on Thursday, and by Sunday night, all were contained”, according to Bighorn National Forest Fire Management Officer Jon Warder
In other fire news around the area, 13 Wyoming National Guard Soldiers deployed from the Cody area to help State Forestry workers with the Hole in the Wall fire burning near Clark.
State Forestry officials requested the guardsmen and ground transportation vehicles through the Wyoming Office of Homeland Security. Gov. Matt Mead signed the authorization Aug. 23. The soldiers left Aug. 24, and will work for up to 14 days.