Most of Wyoming, including the heavily forested northwest part of the state, is predicted to have a slightly below average to average large wildfire season this year, state forester Bill Crapser said.
“Their best long-term trends right now are kind of on the low end of average,” Crapser said. “They are predicting quite a bit of lightning. So their prediction right now is that we’re probably going to have ... a lot of starts, but probably a lower than average large fire development.”
The predictions come from the Rocky Mountain Area Coordination Center in Denver. The center consists of various government agencies, including the National Park Service, the U.S. Forest Service and the National Association of State Foresters, that provide information on wildfires in the Rocky Mountain region.
But Crapser, who briefed Gov. Matt Mead about the wildfire season predictions on Thursday, noted that fire conditions can quickly change in Wyoming with a few hot, windy days.
“The caution that I have on this is that it’s almost identical to the prediction they had last year at this time, and then it dried out and quit raining and we had a pretty active fire season,” he said.
In 2016, there were about 700 wildfires in Wyoming, including several large ones in Yellowstone and Grand Teton. The state averages about 600 a year.
Wyoming has 11.8 million of acres of forested land, most of it on federal land, including Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks.
Crapser said county firefighting resources were “in good shape” heading into the fire season.
“Our state resources, both our crews and our helitack, are going to be staffed this summer and be able to deal with the normal type of stuff we have,” he said.
With the Aug. 21 total solar eclipse passing directly through Wyoming, Crapser said his office has already been in touch with other states in the region about possibly bolstering Wyoming’s firefighting resources. Large wildfires put up huge plumes of smoke that can obscure the view of the sky from the ground.
“So if it looks like we’re going to have a lot of activity during that time then we’ll start gearing up some stuff,” he said.