The Fishhawk Fire may not be threatening buildings, but one thing Shoshone National Forest Service made clear in a briefing to the Park County Commissioners on Tuesday is that the blaze is still far from over.
“The perception out there is, oh it rained it’s out,” Shoshone National Forest district ranger Sue Stresser. “It’s not out.”
The management of the 11,171-acre fire has shifted back to the Forest Service from the Rocky Mountain Incident Management Blue Team as of Monday night.
Closure zones have also been lifted on many areas surrounding the fire. The Blackwater Trail and drainage are now reopened as is the Kitty Creek service road. Remaining closures will continue on the Kitty Creek, Fishhawk Creek, Mesa Creek and Sheep Creek drainages.
“There’s still fire out there, it’s still smoldering, still could move,” Fire and Fuels specialist Clint Dawson said.
Dawson said the fire is 0.9 miles away from the Kitty Creek cabins and has burned almost all the way down to Kitty Creek.
Embers in the wind
National Forest staff have stationed a camera on the north side of US 14-16-20 West – both with infrared thermal and another panoramic color capabilities, to watch future fire progress.
“To allow us to see when things start picking up and allow us to mobilize or alleviate (questions from homeowners,” Dawson said. “It’ll give us eyes on this thing 24 hours a day.”
Fall weather has stalled the fire, but hot, windy weather could rekindle the risk. The Fishhawk drainage is littered with dead timber, brush and beetle-kill wood that could provide ample fuel to the flames.
“I recall in late October, well into November, fires still being active in Trout Creek, smoldering and whatnot,” Dawson said.
Up to an inch of precipitation is being predicted for the next few days along with possible snow above 8,000 ft. Continued smoldering and smoke is expected from the Fishhawk Fire until a major season-ending weather event occurs.
The 47-acre Stinkwater Fire in Sunlight Basin is 80 percent contained at this point and the closure of Sulphur Creek Road has been lifted. This fire was also determined to have been started by lightning strike.
With hunting season open, National Forest staff do want to open up as much possible land as safety permits, despite the fire being zero percent contained. Park County Commissioner Lee Livingston, who also runs an outfitting business, said his guide that typically brings guests to the Fishhawk drainage will work in another area this fall.
Stresser said protecting structures is the main initiative in mitigating the Fishhawk Fire.
“There’s containment and then there’s accomplishment,” Stresser said. “We feel like all those structures and values at risk have been remediated.”
Stresser said the exact location of the fire’s origin has been discovered, sparked by three lightning strikes between Eyrie and Norris creeks in the Fishhawk drainage Aug. 21. It was not until Sept. 2 the fire was discovered, burning at 500 acres.
“It had all the intricacies, all the signs lining up for a big push on this fire,” forest supervisor Lisa Timchak said.
By Sept. 5, the Type 2 Blue Team was called in but Park County staff worked hand-in-hand with members of the 173-member Rocky Mountain team throughout the outside agency’s time in Cody.
“I have never been so impressed with how the county and community come together, than I was last week,” Timchak said.
Mitigation of the fire played into responders favor the middle of last week, as nearly .6 inches of precipitation and colder temperatures descended on the area since that time.
Planning for the future
Members of the Type 2 team managing the fire- including Hotshots and National Forest staff, helped initiate structure protection around the Kitty Creek and Buffalo Bill Boy Scout Camp cabins, receiving a major boost from Park County protection plan efforts that took place before the fire ever started.
“We feel really confident that if this fire should threaten, and even for future fires; we have a good plan in place that we can go to that will protect our values,” Dawson said.
Structure assessment plans collected during this wildfire will remain a constant source of long-term fire forecasting, filled with substantive details and GIS maps.
“But what can we do better?” Jake Fulkerson, Park County commissioner asked of Forest Service staff during the briefing.
Stresser said evacuation efforts were a little disorganized at first and there was one vehicle fender-bender that occurred to a staff vehicle. Her department will continue to analyze how the fire was managed into the future.