At least two recent wildfires in the Jackson Hole area are believed to have been caused by lightning.
The Cliff Creek Fire has burned an estimated 15,000 acres about 5 miles north of Bondurant, about 25 miles southeast of Jackson. The fire has resulted in the closure of a 40-mile section of Highway 89/191 due to heavy smoke and active fire jumping over the highway. That stretch of highway is used by about 2,600 vehicles a day during July, according to the Casper Star Tribune.
Residents of northern Bondrant and the Dell Creek area have been forced to evacuate, as were any campers in the areas. (See related article, “Lessons from the Alberta Wildfire: Be Prepared,” for practical wildfire emergency tips.)
According to the Teton Interagency Fire Dispatch Center in Moose, Wyoming, interagency firefighters were working to control the blaze, which was burning in “thick, continuous fuel, torching groups of trees.”
The interagency firefighting crews were using a lot of air resources, according to fire information officer Nan Stinson.”There’s a lot of planes and helicopters in the sky,” she said. InciWeb has reported that the Cliff Creek Fire was caused by lightning.
Meanwhile, another lightning-induced wildfire northwest of Dubois, Wyoming, in the northern Wind River Range of the Shoshone National Forest has burned about 640 acres.
“These fires are nature’s way of maintaining a mix of woodlands and open grasslands in this ecosystem.” — District Ranger Nicole Branton, Red Rock (Arizona) State Park.
High temperatures and strong winds created the ideal conditions for a full-scale wildfire, according to incident contact Kristie Salzmann. Resources assigned to the Lava Mountain Fire include three heavy air tankers, two single engine air tankers, two heavy helicopters, two light helicopters, Wyoming Interagency Hotshots and seven fire engines, Salzmann said.
Weather is not expected to cooperate with the firefighters. Hot and breezy conditions are predicted to continue.
In addition, several other lightning-caused wildfires have been keeping Wyoming firefighters busy lately. The Browning Fire northwest of Upton resulted when more lightning poured through northeastern Wyoming and the Black Hills. Soon afterward, another wildfire was discovered just west of Inya Kara northeast of Upton. The two fires then merged.
Two other relatively small fires on national forest land in western Wyoming have also burned an additional 400+ acres of the Big Horn and Shoshone national forests.
According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), federal and state wildland firefighting agencies have reported an average of 9,000 lightning-induced wildfires per year. And these fires tend to be larger than fires started by human causes: The average lightning-caused fire burns 402 acres, nine times the average of 45 acres seen in human-caused wildfires.
Lightning-caused wildfires are often viewed as beneficial. “These fires are nature’s way of maintaining a mix of woodlands and open grasslands in this ecosystem,” said District Ranger Nicole Branton, of Red Rock (Arizona) State Park.
Which is why firefighters in the Bias Canyon of Arizona chose to monitor a recent lightning-caused wildfire rather than to actively suppress it. Monitoring a wildfire reduces hazardous exposure to firefighters on the ground, while allowing the fire to play its natural role on the landscape, according to Branton.
The Bias Fire presents an opportunity to restore the landscape to its historic and natural state of a mixed grassland and woodland state by allowing it to burn naturally, with fire managers keeping a close eye on it.
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