Smoke-filled skies and temperatures creeping near 100 degrees could confuse people in Wyoming. The weather experienced by the state has been like that normally seen in August, not June.
A combination of a low snowpack this winter, a dry spring and hot weather has stirred forest fires to levels normally seen in mid-July or August, said Bill Crapser, state forester.
This year March, April and May were three of the driest months on record for the state and those are usually the wet months, Crapser said. The state also experienced a low snowpack, leaving land dry and runoffs low. Then, there has been wind and hot temperatures, all adding to create a brutal and early fire season.
“If we had a really strong monsoon season, we could get some relief,” he said.
However, that’s not in the forecast.
This week brings “critical fire weather conditions,” said Paul Skrbac, a senior forecaster with the National Weather Service in Riverton.
Dry thunderstorms were expected beginning Monday night, complete with gusting winds and lightning. There is no significant rain in the forecast in the foreseeable future, Skrbac said.
Temperatures in the state reached 105 in several places during the weekend, including Worland, which broke its record of 102 for June 24, set in 1988, Skrbac said.
On Wednesday, the state will get a slight reprieve with cooling of about
“So instead of very hot, it will be just hot,” Skrbac said.
Temperatures will rise again at the end of the week.
The continued heat, wind and impending thunderstorms has firefighters on alert across the state, Crapser said.
Already more than 600 people are working on the Russells Camp Fire and about another 100 are working on the Bridger-Teton, he said. The Fontenelle Fire on the Bridger-Teton, first reported Sunday, is 300 acres. According to a press release, it is burning heavy dead and fallen timber.
The fire has been upgraded and the forest ordered a Type 3 Incident Management Team, which was expected to take control of the fire Monday evening. A Type 3 team is called when a fire exceeds the forest’s capabilities to manage internally, a press release said. The cause of the fire is under investigation.
The Russells Camp Fire on the Medicine Bow National Forest and Thunder Basin National Grassland reached more than 5,000 acres as of Monday afternoon, according to the Incident Information System.
Smoke also was blowing into Wyoming from fires in Colorado and South Dakota.
There also are some small fires burning in Wyoming, Crapser said.
Large fire fuel, such as logs 3-6 inches in diameter, has only 6 or 7 percent moisture, Crapser said. That means quick ignition and complete combustion for fires.
The whole state is susceptible to fire, but the southern half of the state is currently the driest and hottest, he said.
The Rocky Mountain Coordination Group, which brings together fire agencies in the region, is working to pre-position resources, Crapser said. Areas where lightning is predicted will have people stationed nearby to help immediately.
The state forestry office is currently talking with the governor’s office about the budget for fighting wild land fires, Crapser said. There is worry this year’s fires will exceed budgets.
There also is worry about firefighter shortages and fatigue with potential for fires throughout the region.
“We are doing our best to manage it,” Crapser said.