Twice in the past two decades, a major wildfire has burned Casper Mountain. The first time, in 2006, charred the west side of our community’s most notable natural landmark. Then in 2012, the east side went up in flames.
Both fires were tragic and destroyed people’s homes and properties. But up until now, the most populated and developed part of the mountain – its center – has remained unburned. As the years have gone by and the hot and dry summers pile up, it feels like it’s only a matter of time before a wildfire erupts on Casper Mountain again.
Last Saturday afternoon, it appeared the nightmare scenario would finally become a reality. A fire ignited in a residential area along Garden Creek Road at the mountain’s base. Flames quickly consumed a home and began racing along the mountain, driven by a gusty conditions and temperatures of nearly 100 degrees. The fire threatened more homes and was burning near Rotary Park, one of the most popular recreation spots on the mountain. Disaster seemed imminent.
But while the fire was tragic, it didn’t cause the widespread devastation that we feared. For that, we have our firefighters to thank. They responded quickly, not just from Casper but from the surrounding areas as well. Their quick and efficient response stopped the fire just before it reached the tree line, where it could have quickly spread and caused much more damage and loss. They were buoyed by multiple aircraft who made repeated passes at the flames, helping to keep them from getting out of control.
By early Saturday evening, the fire was brought under control, and residents were allowed back to their homes that same night. With such a quick and effective response, it might be easy to take firefighters for granted. But their work that day was outstanding and certainly saved many homes.
Our firefighters have done outstanding work all summer long keeping Wyoming safe. The same day as the Casper Mountain Fire, crews protected the small, southern Wyoming town of Hanna from destruction. They’ve fought blazes in all parts of the state, in all conditions, and have effectively limited the damage and destruction.
We can help them in two ways. The first is the most obvious: We can do our part of reduce the likelihood of fire. For those of us who live near or in the forest, we can make sure that are homes are protected with defensible space. When we camp, we can take the time to make sure our fire is out before departing. We can properly dispose of cigarettes or other flammable items. And we can avoid high-risk activities that might spark a fire on hot and windy days.
The second way is less obvious but just as necessary. As a state, we are facing a historic budgetary crisis. That crisis has led to major budget cuts, and more are on the way. The state’s fire prevention department was not spared. Even in the face of these cuts, lawmakers have shown an unhealthy resistance to boosting state revenues to balance the budget, from the easiest, eliminating tax exemptions, to a more difficult but arguably necessary rebalancing of the state’s tax structure. In the face of a destructive fire, it’s right to ask why.
People continue to see the cuts as addressing a bloated and wasteful government. But Saturday’s fire shows why it’s critical that we support government services that benefit all of us. Yes, they cost us in taxes and fees. But they pay dividends when we need them. Fortunately, we had an adequately funded fire department when Casper Mountain was burning. As the Wyoming Legislature contemplates revenue shortfalls and remedies to the state budget, we encourage them to remember this, because for some things, government is the right answer, and there is no substitute.
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