The Badger Creek Fire has burned for more than a month along the Colorado border, consuming more than 32 square miles (82 square kilometers) in the process. Six hours north, the Terek Fire, more than twice the size of its southern counterpart, has burned for more than a week.
The fires, which were almost completely contained Friday, will likely not be the last to ignite in Wyoming this summer.
This summer shouldn’t bring with it an inferno, however. Authorities are predicting a relatively mild fire season in a state historically prone to bouts of burning wildland throughout the summer months. Those forecasts come with a significant disclaimer, however.
“As always, it all depends on our short-term weather,” said Wyoming State Forester Bill Crapser.
The National Weather Service does not predict an unusually dry summer, according to drought outlook maps provided by the agency. Current conditions indicate nearly all of the state should remain untouched by drought through September, the maps show.
However, short-lived events, the agency warns, can impact the predictive power of the mapping.
And it is short-lived events – like an exceptionally hot and dry week – that can lead to rapid wildfire spread, Crapser told the Casper Star-Tribune.
The Badger Creek Fire, first began in early June, grew with the help of a week like that. On June 1, low temperatures meant low fire danger in the area. Just more than a week later, after fuel sources had been dried out by a heat wave, the fire ignited and spread rapidly. The fire’s spread resembled that of an early-August burn, Crapser said.
The Terek Fire, burning near Worland, spread after a wind ribbon pushed lightning-caused fires across cheat grass, Crapser said. The invasive species, once dry,”‘will burn like gasoline,” Crapser said.
Although Wyoming had a wet spring, Crapser said, it won’t necessarily limit fire risk. The heavy rainfall promoted plant growth. When those plants dry out, they serve as additional fuel for wildfires.
A heavy rain won’t rehydrate dried plants, Natrona County Emergency Manager John Harlin said. Once a plant has dried out, it will remain dead – and prime material to feed wildfires, he said.
“Even a torrential rainstorm won’t change … overall fuel levels too much,” he said.
For the month of July, the danger is “below normal” in northern Wyoming, according to maps provided by the National Interagency Fire Center. Through October, the entire state’s wildfire potential is rated as “normal.”
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