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August 23, 2011 9:15 am

Wildfire burning west of Clark

Written by CJ Baker

UPDATED, 11:05 a.m., Tuesday: A wildfire started by lightning west of Clark on Sunday night was estimated to have swollen to more than 1,000 acres by Monday night.

The Hole in the Wall Fire is near the eastern boundary of the Shoshone National Forest, in rugged Beartooth Mountain terrain, north of Bennett Creek, said forest district ranger Terry Root. It’s roughly eight miles northwest of Clark.

There were two lightning strikes on the Shoshone during Sunday night’s storm and “sure enough, one of them took off,” Root said.

Strong western winds fanned its growth, with the Associated Press reporting the fire’s smoke column was visible by weather satellite on Monday morning.

A Type III management team, a smaller type of crew made up of firefighters and personnel from around the Big Horn Basin, was slated to be in place early Monday evening to manage the fire. As of Tuesday morning, about 50 people were assigned to the fire, including six fire engines, two 20-person Hotshot crews and a helicopter. Two more Hotshot crews were en route Tuesday, with a larger team slated to take command of the fire operations on Wednesday, the forest service said.

“We’ll ramp up as necessary to protect private lives and private structures,” Root said Monday.

Fire operations were being led by Russ Wenke of the Cody fire district and based at the Clark Fire Hall.

A public meeting has been scheduled for 7:30 p.m. today (Tuesday) at the Clark Pioneer Recreation Center. Updating fire information is available online at http://www.inciweb.org/incident/2510/.

Root said potential challenges for the fire include the area’s strong, erratic winds and the difficult terrain.

“You can’t go in there,” he said. “You can’t even move around in that country, even less fight fire.”

Warm weather is in the immediate forecast.

“There’s a lot of dead timber to the north, so this fire will grow,” Root said. The concern is where it grows.

He said if the Hole in the Wall Fire heads west toward the Beartooth plateau “it’s going to burn out the timber and die,” and it can go north into dead timber for a ways before it reaches potential issues in Montana.

“My major concern here is — where it sits today — is any eastern movement,” Root said.

He said the closest structure to the fire as of Monday morning was a ranch a couple miles to the southeast.

The fire would have to cross a couple miles of grassland to reach any structures to the east, “but Clark country has a history of high winds and being able to carry a fire across pretty thin patches of grass,” Root said, “So that threat is always there.”

Elsewhere in the Shoshone, a 300-acre Warm Springs Fire was started by lightning just west of Dubois. An evacuation order was issued Monday afternoon for a nearby rural subdivision.

The month-old Norton Point Fire also continues to burn in the Shoshone, roughly 24 miles north of Dubois. As of Monday, the fire was estimated at 17,510 acres. It is going through alternating periods of active and minimal growth and has generally burned in wilderness.

Another active fire in the region, the Red Rock Fire, was found in a remote portion of the Bridger-Teton National Forest on Saturday. It was estimated at 950 acres on Monday.

1 Comment

  • Comment Link August 24, 2011 7:26 pm posted by Suzanne Lehman

    I live in Clark and the smoke is TERRIBLE here tonight. It's getting difficult to breathe!!

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