From the pages of
The Sublette County Journal
Volume 4, Number 36 - 5/4/00
brought to you online by Pinedale Online

Fires Plague Sublette County
Nine fires recorded over a 4-day period
by Jennifer Binning

Volunteer fire departments in Sublette County did not get much sleep last week, responding to nine fires over the course of a four-day period.

The first fire was a small garbage fire that started on Tuesday, April 25, and was quickly extinguished. The following day was uneventful as far as fires were concerned, but Thursday, April 27 more than made up for it.

The day began with a seasonal ditch burning that got out of control on the Flying Heart Ranch. That fire, while quickly extinguished, re-ignited once during the day and again the next day, accounting for three separate calls to the fire department.

Just about noon on Thursday, a grass fire was reported near the shooting range on Fremont Lake Road. Although details are sketchy, the origin of the fire is questionable, and fire investigators have been called in to investigate the possiblity of arson. Although there are several homes in the area, none of them was damaged by the fire.

Later on, Forrest Hittle called about a grass fire near milepost 7 on highway 353 in Boulder. The fire was again quickly contained, and only about 10 square feet of grass had burned. At about the same time, a fire was reported on private property near North Willow Lake Road. After contacting the owners of the property, it was discovered that a yearly willow and grass burn was underway, and it was well under control.

Boulder residents then called in a fire on the west side of the Boulder Bridge, which was followed by the first re-ignition of the Flying Heart fire.

Just when the firefighters thought they could relax, the final Flying Heart flair up occurred on Friday, which was quickly trailed by yet another grass fire on Ehman lane.

While many Sublette County residents are happy with the mild spring weather, there is cause for some concern.

"It is really dry; I would advise people to hold off on the grass burning until we get some moisture," says Kurt Nelson of the U.S. Forest Service. Mr. Nelson estimates the current fire danger in the forest to be low to moderate, mainly because there is still quite a bit of snow left in the mountains.

Daryle Bennett, who collects the SNOTEL data, agrees that the moisture in the ground is "not looking good" even though the information from the SNOTEL sites indicates a stream flow about 90% of normal. "I would be surprised if it (the estimated stream flow) stays that high for much longer," Mr. Bennett said in an interview last week, noting that the SNOTEL site on Triple Peak is measuring only 48% of normal moisture levels, and the New Fork Lake site only 35%.

"We had such a dry fall, that all the water is just going right into the ground, with not a whole lot of runoff," says State Water Engineer, Loren Smith in Big Piney. If the weather continues to be unseasonably warm, it may produce a big high peak or flushing flow earlier than usual this year. This is good news for fishermen, as the high water comes and goes so rapidly that the water clears more quickly and the fishing is better earlier in the spring. It can cause problems for ranchers trying to irrigate their land this summer.

Mr. Smith feels that due to the past three years, which have produced plenty of moisture, there should be no problems with getting enough water on the hay fields. There may be some regulation of water use during the irrigation season, but "nothing like we saw in the early 90s. There are springs running this year that never ran back then. There is lots of water in the ground, you just have to go deep to find it," he says.

The biggest concern at the moment, however, is how dry the surface is now, and trying to keep grass fires from blowing out of control and scorching the first inch or so of soil, rendering it sterile.

When asked how the fire danger was in the Wyoming Range, Mr. Smith noted the only fires he had seen were of the man-made variety, reinforcing Mr. Nelson's advice to be very cautious about burning fields and ditches this year.

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