Wildland firefighters on Thursday piled onto a Palisades Wilderness Study Area blaze, likely lit by humans, with the goal of fully suppressing the flames flicking from the mountainsides west of Jackson Hole.

The Coburn Fire was visible from South Highway 89 for much of the afternoon, and though the smoke appeared as a wisp from afar, up close the three-quarter-acre fire was making “short runs,” spotting and torching groves of conifers high in the Snake River Range.

When a fire burns in a wilderness study area, the Bridger-Teton National Forest typically lets it play its natural role as much as possible. The agency is even thinning and prescribed burning tens of thousands of acres along the Palisades front to make fire more manageable. But after reviewing current conditions and the forecast, Bridger-Teton Fire Management Officer Steve Markason opted not to risk it.

“There’s homes downwind, and we ain’t taking that chance,” Markason said. “Plus, right now we’re ruling out lightning-caused.”

Wildfire managers made that call after reviewing weather maps that showed recent lightning up north toward Togwotee but nothing to the south.

The Bridger-Teton is flying in a fire investigator to look into what started the Coburn Fire, which is located at 9,000 feet about a half-mile east of the Caribou-Targhee National Forest boundary in the headwaters of its namesake creek. There are no system trails nearby, Markason said.

Right after the fire was reported at 12:35 p.m. Thursday, a two-person Helitak crew started bucket-dropping on the blaze while ground firefighters set in on foot, Markason said. Eight smokejumpers dropped right into the Snake River Range several hours later to help.

In other wildfire news, Teton Interagency Fire renamed Wyoming’s largest wildfire of the year. The Tannerite Fire now goes by the name Boulder Lake Fire. The origin of the old name was the manufacturer of the explosive firearm target that started the now 1,359-acre wildfire; the new name comes from a nearby geographic marker.

Bridger-Teton firefighter Pat Tenney assumed incident command duties overseeing the fire early Tuesday morning. Although the Boulder Lake Fire’s listed size increased by 19 acres in the last few days, the expansion reflected more accurate mapping — not actual growth.

Growth has also been scant on two other active regional fires: the Gros Ventre Wilderness’ 0.3-acre Flat Creek Fire and the Teton Wilderness’ Box Creek Fire, which has burned 2 acres since it was started by lightning a month ago.

The Coburn Fire was showing some signs of life as of press time, but firefighters were making fast work on it. In just four hours, crews managed to cut a chainsaw line around half of the blaze’s perimeter.

“Progress is good, but sun is hitting it directly now,” Markason said. “The sage/grass meadows are holding, so not an issue right now with spotting.”

Editor's note: This story has been updated to correct an editing error in reference to fuels reduction work along the Palisades front. 

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 for 7 years. A native Minnesotan, he arrived in the West to study environmental journalism at the University of Colorado.

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