Fire Restrictions Issued Early For Northeastern Wyoming

Jun 9, 2016

Thunder Basin National Grassland in northeastern Wyoming.
Credit Wikimedia Commons

Niobrara, Weston and Crook counties are on high alert for wildfires as Wyoming's first fire restrictions of the year are put in place.

Bureau of Land Management New Castle Field Office Manager Rick Miller said a main reason fire restrictions were issued Tuesday was because it's been very dry in the region.

"Northeast Wyoming has not had the rainfall that other parts of Wyoming have received, nor the spring snowfall, so we're quite a bit drier than other parts of Wyoming right now," Miller said.

The area is actually in short-term drought, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

These new fire restrictions prohibit building fires unless they're contained in a stove, grill or a government-provided fire grate. The restrictions also prohibit smoking outside near flammable materials like dry grass and using a welder with a fire extinguisher.

Miller said while some actions are not allowed, people can still use fire under certain circumstances.

"While certain actions are prohibited, mostly it's to create an awareness so that people use caution in what they're doing," Miller said. "For instance, it doesn't say you can't use a welder, it just says you can't use one under certain circumstances and have to have a fire extinguisher available."

A University of Wyoming study published last year showed northeastern Wyoming as more vulnerable to wildfires long-term compared to the rest of Wyoming because of its abundant flammable grasslands.

Author of the study University of Wyoming Assistant Professor Derek Scasta said significant wildfire seasons in Wyoming usually happen in 3-5 year cycles, according to data collected over the last 15 years.

He said normally, there are a few years of rainfall that help grow flammable grasslands. Then a drought year happens, drying out the grasslands which act as fuel for wildfires.

Past drought years have been in 2002, 2006, and 2012, which were particularly active wildfire seasons. Scasta is concerned about the possibility of an active wildfire season sometime soon.

"We've had at least three years since that bad year (2012) of average to above average rainfall. So I'm anticipating either this year or next year to see drier conditions...we're due, so to speak, for more active fire years," Scasta said.

Scasta also said weather throughout Wyoming can be varying, so some areas, like northeastern Wyoming, may be more vulnerable to wildfires this summer than other areas.