Fire restrictions

Teton Interagency incident commander Ron Steffens walks along the perimeter of the Antelope Fire in June 2014. The blaze on Shadow Mountain was caused by an abandoned campfire. With a dry summer bearing down on Jackson Hole, land managers intend to prohibit campfires in dispersed camping areas by no later than July 1.

Discussions are ramping up about prohibiting campfires outside campgrounds as the wildfire danger continues to climb in northwest Wyoming.

Prompted partly by the fire danger increasing to “very high” Tuesday, Teton Interagency Fire managers intend to change the regulations by the turn of the month.

“The indexes are there,” Bridger-Teton National Forest spokeswoman Mary Cernicek said. “We would like to go into stage one fire restrictions.”

Stage one restrictions mean that campfires are allowed only inside grates in designated campgrounds. Once the regulations are imposed, open flames won’t be allowed at popular dispersed camping areas like Curtis Canyon, Shadow Mountain, Toppings Lake and beyond.

Before a partial fire ban becomes the law of the land, officials are pushing for everyone, including Teton County government and Grand Teton National Park, to get on the same page. But they’re also not being quiet about their intentions: “It’s no secret,” Cernicek said. “We are talking about going to stage one restrictions by the first of July.”

Some neighboring land managers have preempted that decision. On Wednesday the Shoshone National Forest, which neighbors the Bridger-Teton to the east, announced it had moved into stage one restrictions. The U.S. Forest Service always eases into stage one restrictions ahead of implementing a total fire ban.

In Idaho, Teton County Fire and Rescue imposed a burn ban effective Wednesday. The Caribou-Targhee National Forest — the Bridger-Teton’s western neighbor — is also discussing elevating to a partial fire ban, Cernicek said.

Vegetation in the region is abnormally dry for the third week of June, according to wildfire fuels indexes. Although not record dry, the gauge for the whole region shows that conditions are drier right now than in nine out of ten years.

Bridger-Teton wildfire specialist Andy Norman doesn’t see improvement on the horizon.

“The long-term forecast is for no significant relief in sight,” Norman said.

The National Weather Service is predicting highs in the low 90s by early next week, which means temperatures 15 to 20 degrees above average. No significant precipitation is forecast anytime soon.

Across the West, land managers and communities are grappling with drought and bracing for another big wildfire year, which have become more frequent as humankind’s activities have warmed the planet. On Tuesday the National Interagency Fire Center increased its preparedness level to four, just the fourth time it has gone to that level during June in the last 20 years.

Campfire restrictions are becoming an every-year occurrence in Jackson Hole, though it wasn’t always that way, Norman said. Partly, it’s because use of the forest and park — and, thus, likelihood of accidental wildfires — has increased. So far in 2021 Teton Interagency Firefighters and volunteers have extinguished 52 abandoned or unattended fires.

In Norman’s view, the writing is on the wall that campfire restrictions are needed.

“It’s dry,” he said, “and all the pieces are in place where if we have an ignition we could have a good-sized fire, especially if we have a windy day.”

Contact Mike Koshmrl at 732-7067 or env@jhnewsandguide.com.

Mike has reported on the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem's wildlife, wildlands and the agencies that manage them since 2012. A native Minnesotan, he arrived in the West to study environmental journalism at the University of Colorado.

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