Local firefighters are preparing for a big season.
Cody Fire Marshal Sam Wilde said the biggest efforts right now are about educating the public on how to protect themselves if their homes are in the path of a wildfire.
“When there are smoke columns in the air, it’s too late,” Wilde said.
During some of the summer, clouds of smoke from wildfires across the West blanketed Cody, making the air difficult to breathe.
Northwest Wyoming was spared much of the destruction that worked its way across California, Oregon and Colorado, but still saw a smattering of blazes in Yellowstone National Park and Shoshone National Forest. This year, the wildfire forecast is as yet uncertain, but early signs show it could be on par with 2012, one of the worst years for fire in Wyoming in recent memory.
“If you look at May, June and July combined, the Climate Prediction Center is leaning toward warmer temperatures and less than normal precipitation,” said National Weather Service meteorologist Brett McDonald. “That could lead to a more active fire season.”
Drought predictions made by the NWS earlier this month show conditions will either develop or continue in the Big Horn Basin through July, creating an elevated fire risk.
Cody was spared any major fires last summer, but a large fire in Yellowstone near Old Faithful brought some haze over the city and a fire in the Shoshone National Forest temporarily closed U.S. 14-16-20 West between Cody and Yellowstone last June. Several smaller fires also occurred in the Oregon and Sunlight basins.
Looking at the fire history in the area, BLM Acting Fire Management Officer Brian Cresto said last year was “average” for the agency. This year, he said BLM has been doing controlled burns to help reduce the risk of wildfires in preparation for the predicted fire season. If more fires spring up, the agency can bring in additional manpower to help.
“For myself as the fire management officer, I’m definitely going to be making sure we are ahead of the curve, meaning if we have fire weather moving in, we may request additional resources from other districts or states,” Cresto said.
The agency also relies on help from different groups, including local fire departments.
“The BLM is successful because of the relationships we have with cooperators,” he said. “City fire departments have all been great. They’re a big part of the success on these fires.”
Wilde had several tips for homeowners to protect their property, including, limiting flammable objects near the home and keeping grass clipped short, trimming trees within 30 feet of the home, ensuring windows have screens to keep embers outside of homes and running sprinklers on a property if there is a fire approaching. More information on protecting a property can be found at parkcountyfirewise.com.
Wilde also said the main areas of concern in this area were along forest boundaries and that the department had been working with state and federal forestry officials to identify high-risk areas.
In addition, many people right now are doing controlled burns as they prepare their fields for planting. Wilde asked farmers to be cognizant of the wind and weather conditions and that they inform dispatch at (307) 527-8700 that a burn will be happening to avoid unnecessary fire calls for the volunteers.
Cresto noted that most wildfires these days are started by humans instead of natural events like lightning strikes. He offered some fire prevention tips for the summer season:
• Keep campfires small. A few logs provide plenty of heat and light
• Make sure campfires are completely out before leaving a site for any reason. Be sure to stir the ashes after pouring a bucket of water on the flames
• Remember vehicle exhausts can reach temperatures of over 1,000 degrees. Driving or parking over dry grass often starts fires
• Make sure vehicles are current on mechanical checkups so sparks do not come out of the exhaust
• Carry a shovel and fire extinguisher in the vehicle
• When burning debris, make sure to have a water source nearby
• Never burn when it is windy
• Completely soak all spent fireworks before throwing them out