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August 08, 2013 8:39 am

Remote South Fork wildfire expected to burn until fall

Written by CJ Baker

Fire managers predict fire will scorch 50,000 acres

During a stretch of cooler weather last week, Shoshone National Forest officials thought the Hardluck Fire — burning in the remote Washakie Wilderness in southwestern Park County — might be slowing down.

Instead, warmer temperatures returned and the Hardluck Fire swelled to nearly 13,000 acres by Wednesday. That included churning through nearly 4,000 acres on Monday, spreading southwest into Bliss Creek Meadows and southeast of Hardluck Mountain.

“The fire’s burning. It’s cleaning up a lot of stuff. It’s doing its thing in there,” Shoshone Forest Supervisor Joe Alexander said Tuesday as he briefed Park County commissioners on the fire.

“We really don’t have a choice of whether or not we manage it for fire use,” Alexander said. “... It’s burning in nasty country, and we can’t stop it if we wanted to.”

The Hardluck Fire was started by lightning sometime around July 20. No structures or private lands currently are threatened, but Alexander said it is impacting several outfitters who regularly use the now off-limits area. Alexander said he’s committed to working with them.

The Hardluck Fire’s northern edge is located about 12 miles south of the end of the South Fork Road (County Road 6WX).

The Black Tooth wildland fire crew, which specializes in managing fires in wilderness areas, recently completed work to thin out some fuels and protect structures near the end of the South Fork road.

“It’s just precautionary measures, should the fire head north and get that close — which it seems unlikely, but you just can’t take any chances with a fire,” Shoshone fire information officer Olga Troxel said Wednesday.

Alexander said he’s taking a cautious approach in closing off access to the fire area.

“There’s just an element of unpredictability with it that’s given us some concern,” he said.

Alexander said the U.S. Forest Service is working to manage the fire, but because of the difficulty of firefighting in the steep terrain, “there’s just limited action we can take.”

One action could include trying to control spot fires that may have reached Frontier Creek — south of Monday’s main run.

Alexander expects to have firefighting resources available if they’re needed.

Based on past experience, the Shoshone supervisor said it’s possible the Hardluck Fire could burn through October or November.

“We’ve really got two months of burning season left, so that’s a big concern for us,” Alexander said.

Last week, forest officials ran some statistical analyses of what the fire might do over the course of August. The blaze took only a handful of days to burn through what the model said had a 60 percent chance of burning over the entire month.

“The biggest we can imagine this getting is 170,000 acres — that’s a lot of country. Probably the average of what we’ve come up with is 50,000 (acres),” Alexander told commissioners. “Which way it kind of goes in there probably is going to depend on our traditional weather patterns, those kind of things.”

Park County Commissioner Lee Livingston, who happens to be one of the outfitters most affected by the Hardluck Fire, described the area where the fire’s been burning as an old forest with a lot of downed timber.

South Fork resident and Commissioner Joe Tilden called it gorgeous country.

“It’s something that probably needs to happen; you just hate to see it happen,” he said.

For more information about the fire, including detailed information about current backcountry closures, visit www.inciweb.org/incident/3546 or contact the fire information officer at 307-250-6867.

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