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June 28, 2012 8:59 am

Fires moving closer

Written by Ilene Olson

Three fires burning in western Wyoming

A section of U.S. 212 south of the Wyoming/Montana border was closed Tuesday evening due to a new wildfire, but it reopened around noon on Wednesday.

The Index Creek fire prompted the Wyoming Department of Transportation on Tuesday to close the highway, also known as the Beartooth Highway, from the intersection of Chief Joseph Highway, Wyo. 296, to Cooke City, Mont.

When the highway first reopened, traffic was escorted by pilot cars. Traffic now is free to move unimpeded in both directions.

The fire near Fox Creek Campground, was caused by a downed power line. It was reported at 5:40 p.m. Tuesday and named the Index Creek Fire.

U.S. Forest Service and National Park Service crews responded and worked through the night on the fire, which had burned between 30 and 50 acres as of Wednesday afternoon.

Shoshone National Forest Supervisor Susie Douglas said it wasn’t possible to get a closer estimate Wednesday because no aircraft was available to fly over the fire.

The fire was burning in Index Creek and up to the west in green and dead trees, Douglas said.

If the fire keeps moving in the direction it was headed, there’s no danger of the highway closing again, Douglas said. However, that could change if the wind shifted.

Douglas said nine firefighters and one engine were battling the fire as of 1:30 p.m. Wednesday.

A 20-man Hotshot firefighting crew, “the best of the best,” was slated to arrive Wednesday afternoon to aid those efforts, she said.

“The goal is to keep it from entering Montana, kind of corral it down here,” Douglas said.

Meanwhile, a small fire burning in the Shoshone Forest near Louis Lake southwest of Lander had been contained by Wednesday. That fire started Sunday.

Douglas said a decision on whether to allow a fire to burn or to suppress it depends on its location, the values of personal and U.S. Forest Service property and the forecast.

“If they know the weather is going to be bad for the next couple of days — if it’s going to be hot and windy — they are most likely to put it out,” she said.

But the top consideration, she said, is, “We don’t want to put any person’s life at risk.”

Douglas said those were the only fires known to be burning in the Shoshone on Wednesday.

But, she added, a thunderstorm moved through the Cody area on Sunday night and Monday, and that could have triggered a lightning-caused fire.

“Something could still come back to life that just hasn’t been detected yet,” she said. “We have a lot of people out watching.”

In the Bridger Teton National Forest, the Fontenelle fire had burned 12,000 acres as of Wednesday. The fire was burning 33 miles north of LaBarge, with smoke visible in Dubois, according to InciWeb.com.

Personnel were surveying the forest for any signs of fire after Tuesday night’s storm with dry lightning moved through the area, a news release from the Forest Service said.

“We hope to have some aerial support this afternoon to give observers a better chance of detecting any smoke or fires sparked by this round of lightning,” said Joe Alexander, supervisor for the Shoshone National Forest, in a news release. “The current dry conditions throughout the forest increase the danger of wildfire due to natural causes.”

Forest officials continue to urge people to be careful with fire and to use fire prevention efforts while in the forest.

“Over 75 unattended campfires have been put out by Forest Service personnel since Memorial Day along the Loop Road (near Lander),” said Steve Schacht, Washakie District Ranger, in a news release. “We are very concerned about this trend, especially when combined with the lack of moisture in the area.”

To report a wild land fire, contact the Cody Interagency Dispatch Center at 1-800-295-9954 or call 911.

For information about fire conditions on the Shoshone National Forest, contact the Clarks Fork, Greybull, and Wapiti ranger districts at 307-527-6921.

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