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Wildfires break out in the Mountain West, causing two fatalities

Firefighters constructing handline along the north and east sides of the Kruger Rock Fire in Colorado.
Canyon Lands Ranger
Firefighters constructing handline along the north and east sides of the Kruger Rock Fire in Colorado.

News brief

Unseasonable wildfires fueled by high winds over dry ground resulted in two deaths in the Mountain West this week.

In Colorado, the Kruger Rock Fire near Estes Park began early Tuesday when high winds blew a tree onto a powerline, causing it to arc. It spread quickly across steep terrain, thanks to those same strong winds mixed with unusually dry conditions. That night, a single-engine air tanker crashed near the fire, killing the pilot, who was identified Wednesday as Marc Thor Olson

In Wyoming, a wildfire burning near Clark, in Park County, claimed the life of volunteer firefighter Cindy Ruth on Monday, as the Cody Enterprise reported. That fire was also caused when trees got blown into a power line and is now 100 percent contained.

Jerry Parker is the Park County's fire warden. He said the lack of moisture this year makes fires this late in November not at all unusual.

"We used to have a fire season," he said. "And that would usually end towards the end of September, 1st of October. But here recently, in the last few years, fire season seems to be going year-round."

Scientists say warmer fall temperatures and less precipitation are allowing wildfires to burn deeper into fall.

"The fires now are tragic, but they fit the pattern that has significantly increased our fire risk," said Bryan Shuman, a professor at the University of Wyoming who researches climate change. "The combination is terrible and favorable to fire."

According to the U.S. drought monitor, almost all of the Mountain West remains in varying degrees of drought.

Meanwhile, evacuations have been lifted for the Rosebud Fire in Stillwater County, Mont. It broke out late Monday night, and according to the Stillwater Sheriff’s Office, was 15% contained Wednesday afternoon.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Nevada Public Radio, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Maggie Mullen is Wyoming Public Radio's regional reporter with the Mountain West News Bureau. Her work has aired on NPR, Marketplace, Science Friday, and Here and Now. She was awarded a 2019 regional Edward R. Murrow Award for her story on the Black 14.
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