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June 14, 2012 9:40 am

EDITORIAL: Wildfires could be harbinger of more to come

Written by Ilene Olson

Having seen our share of wildfires in this corner of Wyoming and in neighboring states, we certainly can sympathize with residents close to fires burning near Guernsey, Wheatland and in Fort Collins, Colo.

Residents are enduring smoke-filled air and its effects on their health, not to mention the angst felt by people who live in the affected areas. Hundreds of campers in Guernsey State Park and others in the area were evacuated and the park was closed, and structures are threatened. Some evacuation notices were removed on Tuesday.

Adding to their trauma was a report Wednesday that the fire was human caused. No military personnel or actions were involved in starting the fire, which also is near the Wyoming National Guard training facility.

That fire was 95 percent contained Wednesday.

The lightning-caused Cow Camp Fire near Wheatland had grown to 8,492 acres by Tuesday, but was 90 percent contained.

In Colorado, the situation was much more dire. Hundreds of residents in the Fort Collins area were forced to leave their homes in recent days as the High Park Fire advanced and grew to 46,600 acres, or 72 square miles. By Tuesday, the fire had destroyed at least 100 structures, many of them homes, and even had claimed a life.

The High Park Fire was 10 percent contained Wednesday morning and still growing, while 1,000 firefighters battled to get it under control.

The Wyoming National Guard has joined the fight against two of these fires, providing heavy air support with three Black Hawk helicopters at the Guernsey State Park fire, as well as four Wyoming National Guard troops and a Black Hawk helicopter assigned to help fight the High Park Fire.

Two Wyoming National Guard MAFFS (Modular Airborne Fire Fighting Systems) C-130 airplanes and their highly-trained crews are poised in Cheyenne to join the firefighting battle in Colorado, should they be needed.

Outside of the sheer destruction caused by the fires, the resources they consume and the devastation in their wake, perhaps the most disturbing thing about them is that they have occurred in the first part of June. This is a season normally marked by abundant moisture, often following months of heavy snow falling in the mountains. It certainly is not the time we associate with severe forest fires. And summer hasn’t even started yet.

We fear this could be a harbinger of more fires to come, perhaps striking our area as well. Although mountains in northwest Wyoming received a better snowpack than most of the rest of the state last winter and this spring, it doesn’t take long to dry out mountain vegetation with hot, dry winds like the ones we had last week.

Our hearts go out to our neighbors to the southeast, and we hope their lives can return to as normal — or as normal as possible — soon. The Red Cross has sent additional volunteers to support the shelter for evacuees. Those who wish to donate or help fire victims of the High Park Fire can visit HelpColoradoNow.org.

In the meantime, it behooves us all to be extra careful with fire and to pray that Mother Nature continues to be kind to us.

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