While lightning has caused the majority of the fires in Big Horn County, there has also been a combine fire, the spontaneous combustion of a haystack and many others possibly set on purpose by an individual or individuals.
Fire Warden Brent Godfrey said while firefighters were fighting the lightning-caused Terek Fire, a person(s) was driving around and setting additional fires.
These arson fires have typically been started at night and in the areas of the Ten Sleep Road, Alkali flats and the lower Nowood. Authorities have descriptions of a few suspicious vehicles and are following up on leads. If you see any person or persons acting suspiciously, please call the Big Horn County Sheriff’s Office immediately.
There have already been 20 fires in Big Horn County this summer, and Godfrey predicts it is only going to get worse. The “real” fire season doesn’t start for a few weeks. He anticipates that as the summer continues, the grasses, weeds, etc., will continue to dry out, making many places tinderboxes.
“We’ve been very lucky not to have loss of life or a bunch of structures,” noted Godfrey. He said he hadn’t heard of or seen any livestock or wildlife that had perished because of the fire. With so much of the food sources for wildlife gone, he suspects that a lot of the wildlife will be coming into the fields and barrow pits to feed.
There are things people can do to protect themselves and their property.
1. Clean up around structures. Get rid of the dried weeds/grass that abuts your home/buildings.
2. Make firebreaks by creating cleared paths/roads in strategic places. Even a small dirt path could halt or slow down the fire’s advancement.
3. If you use a burn barrel, put a screen on top of it to prevent sparks from flying.
4. Have a fire extinguisher close by if you are welding outside.
Godfrey said people could also help by staying out of the way of the firefighting efforts. He greatly appreciates that people want to bring them food or water, but at the same time, it can cause a distraction and create a traffic issue. People unknowingly block or hinder movements of large fire apparatus that may need to relocate quickly. Donations of food and/or water should be left at fire stations or given to law enforcement agencies for delivery.
Sometimes people coming out of curiosity can cause staging issues for the firefighters, too. A change of wind can mean that the crews and equipment may have to get out fast and/or relocate quickly.
The firefighting has been a combined effort of volunteer fire departments, Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service teams, including air support. Godfrey estimates that over 1,000 acres have been burned within the county. This includes the fires in Burlington and Deaver.
BY BARBARA ANNE GREENE