Next Casper Mountain Fire Could Be Far More Damaging

January 18, 2007

Firefighters warn that the next big wildfire on Casper Mountain could be far more damaging to property than the huge fire that burned much of the area last summer.

The Jackson Canyon fire covered 12,000 acres, cost about $4 million to fight and caused a $1 million property value loss, according to Tom Bechtel, a member of the interagency Natrona County Wildfire Mitigation Committee.

Only 10 structures were destroyed. But Bechtel said a similarly sized fire on another part of the mountain could cause $100 million in property damage.

“Land with trees on it, if it’s subdivided, is worth maybe $8,000 to $10,000 an acre. And if you burn it off, then it’s worth $1,000 an acre. Maybe,'” he said.

Bechtel estimated that Natrona County collects $300,000 a year in property taxes from the area.

“I think it’s time to start spending some of that $300,000 a year the county gets to protect the revenue source,” he said.

Research shows that many of the spared homes were in wooded areas that were just as dry as the areas that burned.

“A lot of the central part of Casper Mountain tends to be in a pretty vulnerable fire hazard area,” said Sam Weaver, president of the Casper Mountain Fire Protection District.

Firefighters say it’s a good idea to clear out trees around homes and homeowners can get financial help to create defensible spaces. But Weaver said that only 35 people made inquiries about the program after the Jackson Canyon fire.

About 750 residential structures, not including outbuildings, are on Casper Mountain and in the Garden Creek area. Weaver estimated that only 100 property owners have defensible spaces.

“There’s a ton of work to be done” he said.

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