Pilgrim Creek Fire

Smoke from the Pilgrim Creek Fire rises Thursday afternoon northwest of Moran, when the fire was about 10 acres. The backcountry blaze in the Teton Wilderness has since grown to 230 acres.

After a calm morning, the largest wildfire of 2020 in Jackson Hole was just picking up steam Monday afternoon and starting to torch trees and grow along its perimeter.

Because of the time of year and its location well into the Teton Wilderness, the Bridger-Teton National Forest is giving the 230-acre Pilgrim Creek Fire some latitude to move around the landscape as it naturally would. That’s not to say the wildfire is being allowed to burn in the absence of any management, Bridger-Teton fire prevention specialist Lesley Williams Gomez said.

“They’re still working the fire edge and gathering information,” she said. “They’re just not using chainsaws yet.”

There are “management action points” that would trigger the use of chainsaws, helicopter bucket drops and heavier-handed techniques to suppress the wildfire. One of those action points is Pilgrim Creek itself. The eight wildland firefighters from the Caribou-Targhee National Forest and Grand Teton National Park assigned to the blaze are also trying to keep it from moving to the west.

For now, firefighters are using “minimal impact suppression tactics,” such as using natural barriers like ridgelines to help harness the fire, which was first spotted Sept. 30.

Although the Pilgrim Creek Fire grew into a modest wildfire in less than a week, fire managers have factors working in their favor, including colder weather on the horizon. Off to the east and north, the 1988 Huck Fire provides a “huge catcher’s mitt” of younger vegetation deeper into the backcountry.

“That’s a perimeter we don’t have to worry about,” Williams Gomez said.

After weeks of high pressure and relative warmth, a cold front is also forecasted to push through the valley starting Sunday and will create conditions less agreeable to growth.

The cause of the Pilgrim Creek Fire has not been determined. There was lightning in the area Sept. 20, and a natural lightning start has not been ruled out. A team of investigators is scheduled to visit the fire this week, Williams Gomez said.

There are two other fires on the Bridger-Teton still classified as active.

The 2-acre Holmes Cave Fire north of Togwotee Pass has been quiet for weeks.

In the northern Wyoming Range, firefighters jumped on the tenth-of-an-acre Buck Creek Fire, which was found Saturday on a very steep slope and is considered “very suspicious” — likely caused by an unextinguished hunter’s warming fire. It’s one of a flurry of recent wildfire starts that have fit that description since the elk rifle hunting season started Sept. 26.

“Over the last few days, these small fires have exposed many individuals to unnecessary risk with hazards and continue to be high cost to the public,” firefighters reported on TetonFires.com

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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