Fire erupts near Moran
Bear Cub Fire is burning in Teton Wilderness but threatens no homes or highways.
By Mike Koshmrl, Jackson Hole, Wyo.
July 4, 2012
Just hours after Teton Interagency Fire raised its wildfire danger rating to “very high” Tuesday, a new sylvan inferno erupted east of Moran in the Teton Wilderness.
By Tuesday evening, the Bear Cub Fire covered 2,000 acres, and a column of smoke rose above the mountains north of Jackson Hole.
It could be seen as far as 55 miles away and dashed hopes that the valley could escape this summer’s blazes.
“It’s definitely aggressive fire behavior, but that’s expected when you have such a high fire danger,” Brider-Teton spokeswoman Mary Cernicek said. “There’s lots of down fuels, lots of beetle kill. The recipe is there for a fast-growing fire.”
Ten smokejumpers from McCall, Idaho, parachuted into the fire area near Nowlin Meadows on Tuesday and began building a line around its southwest edge.
No structures or highways are threatened in the blaze, located about eight miles northeast of Towgotee Pass. Smoke is affecting Dubois and could reach Cody and Meeteetse.
Meanwhile, Wyoming’s largest wildfire, the Fontenelle, continues to rage on almost 90 square miles to the west of Big Piney. It is about 70 miles south of Jackson.
The developments, which follow the cancellation of Snow King’s Fourth of July fireworks, compound worries that the ominous wildfire season will affect Jackson Hole.
The Bear Cub Fire was likely started by lightning three miles east of the Teton County border in Fremont County, officials said. It is burning on the slopes of a 10,800- foot peak known as Bear Cub.
The South Buffalo Fork of the Snake River lies three or four miles to the north.
The blaze was reported at 3 p.m., when it was about 100 acres. By 10:30 p.m., it ballooned to 20 times that size, Bridger-Teton National Forest firefighters reported to www.inciweb.org.
The Bridger-Teton’s Michael Johnston is managing the blaze. The U.S. Forest Service has requested 24 smokejumpers and a helicopter to combat the blaze, Cernicek said.
Tuesday evening, there were no road or trail closures and no structures threatened by the Bear Cub Fire.
The news to the south was less gloomy on Tuesday.
Officials said firefighters made decent headway on containing the 56,000-acre Fontenelle Fire, northwest Wyoming’s first major wildfire of the year. Due in part to a crew of 811 and an expanding aerial fleet working the blaze, containment is now at 15 percent, Fontenelle Fire information officer Ashley Dubrey said.
“We just got some crews from Alaska to help with some mop-up,” Dubrey said. Firefighters had the help of seven helicopters Tuesday.
The Fontenelle team has also been encouraged by the weather forecast, Dubrey said.
“Our red-flag warning has been lifted as of tonight,” she said Tuesday. “We’re starting to get cooler temps. Less wind, too. We were averaging 20 [mph winds] with gusts up to 39 miles per hour.”
The cause of the blaze still hasn’t been determined. The fire was causing havoc among oil and gas workers and curtailing work on a helium plant and at wells near the Riley Ridge Field.
Five wells are within the fire perimeter, according to maps provided by firefighters, and dozens more are nearby in an area that has been closed to the public.
Smoke in Big Piney was particularly bad Tuesday, Dubrey said. The northeast-tracking Fontenelle Fire continues to cause light haze in Jackson Hole, depending on wind.
The “very high,” fire danger listed Tuesday is the second-highest step of five fire danger readings. They range from “low” to “extreme.” Partial fire restrictions remain in effect.
In Grand Teton National Park, and in the county and forest, the partial ban restricts campfires and barbecue grills except at established campgrounds and picnic areas.
Chain saws must have spark arresters, and fire extinguisher and shovel must be on hand. Portable stoves that run on gas, petroleum and pressurized fuel are not affected by the bans.
Fireworks are illegal in the national parks, the forest and on private, BLM and state lands in Teton County.
In a statement, Teton Interagency stressed how unusual early-July restrictions are.
“The Teton Interagency Fire area typically does not reach very high fire danger this early in the season,” the statement said. “This year is tracking similar to 2007, when the area was elevated to high fire danger on June 25, very high fire danger on July 1 and extreme fire danger on July 5.”
The interagency’s measurement for fuels combustibility, which accounts for the dryness and volume of dead and live trees, litter and grasses, continues to break records for early July.
The “build-up” index, a measure of how hot a wildfire is capable of getting, has never run higher in 21 years of record-keeping.