Fire Stories

Fire stories from the national parks highlight events, incidents, and the like, associated with fire and fuels management, as well as fire education, technology, partnerships, and more. Stories highlight work related to Department of the Interior initiatives as well as local and regional initiatives.

A log cabin schoolhouse sits in a grassy field with a couple of trees nearby and a small hill behind and mountains in the distance.

A historic schoolhouse on the Ewing Hill Ranch in Bighorn Canyon was one of the structures assessed by the Bandelier wildland fire module while they were supporting the park during severity.

Crew Performing Structure Assessments Responds to Wildfire

Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area, Wyoming / Montana
Cohesive Strategy—Fire–Adapted Human Communities*

Hot, dry conditions in July 2012 pushed the Bighorn National Recreation Area into extreme fire danger and fire restrictions, as well as prompting a severity request and stepped up staffing. Grand Teton National Park fire management officer Chip Collins, who also oversees fire management in Bighorn Canyon, knew the neighboring cooperators were already taxed due to recent fire activity, so he looked for an opportunity to support Bighorn Canyon.

The Bandelier Fire Module was in the Tetons supporting severity staffing, when a fire broke out near Bighorn Canyon’s boundary. Since Bighorn Canyon has only a few employees qualified as wildland firefighters, and relies heavily on the Big Horn National Forest, the Big Horn Basin BLM and volunteer fire departments, Collins immediately sent the module to help mop up the wildfire.

The module served a dual purpose while in Bighorn Canyon. After the severe 2011 fire season impacted so many parks, the Intermountain Region directed all parks in the region to conduct extensive structure assessments on all structures in each park. Having the Bandelier wildland fire module in the park provided an opportunity to multi-task, while achieving cost effectiveness and efficiencies.

“While they were there on standby for any fires, we asked if they would conduct structure assessments, particularly on the many ranches that are dispersed throughout the park,” Collins said. “They completed those assessments and made recommendations to resource management on how to improve the defensible space, whether it was mowing wider strips or cutting limbs on alder trees, or more involved fuel reductions.”

The crew conducted thorough assessments on all four historic districts (ranches) in the National Recreation Area that straddles the Wyoming and Montana borders. Their assessments will provide direction for Bighorn Canyon to focus their fuels reduction efforts for the next few years.

As an added bonus, while assessing a structure on July 23, the module members noticed smoke to the north, and subsequently responded to the Black Tail Fire, which was burning on a steep slope above the west shore of the lake in juniper and grass. The fire was in rough terrain with difficult access, but the Bandelier wildland fire module and an engine from the Bighorn National Forest were able to take suppression action.

Contacts: Traci Weaver, Fire Communication/Education Specialist
Phone: 307-739-3692

*This story supports the Department of the Interior initiatives.