by nathan oster
All it takes is a single spark to ignite a blaze on a windy day, and Monday certainly qualified as one of those, with wind speeds of 15 to 30 miles per hour measured every hour at the south Big Horn County airport in Greybull.
The wind and the dry conditions made for a busy day for south Big Horn County firefighters, who were called to put out grass fires near Shell and Hyattville that combined to burn about 80 acres of land.
The first one, reported around 9:30 a.m., started at the Morris Smith residence on Lane 35 ½, between Greybull and Shell, when the wind tipped over a burn barrel, according to Shell Fire Chief Mike Nelson.
The fire ended up burning 61 acres, but no structures were damaged.
Nelson credited members of the Greybull Fire Department for their assistance.
“They were awesome,” he said, adding that the BLM, South Big Horn Search and Rescue, and a Forest Service hand crew also assisted at the scene. A helicopter arrived on scene as well to assist, but wasn’t used.
It was, however, utilized later in the day in Hyattville, according to Brent Godfrey, the county fire warden. A fire there burned 19 acres of mostly BLM-owned forest near Medicine Lodge Archeological Site before members Hyattville, Basin, Manderson and BLM firefighters brought it under control. The helicopter “mopped it up,” dumping water from above on the fire scene. Less than an acre of Medicine Lodge property was affected and no buildings or cultural areas of the park were threatened by the fire, according to site superintendent Brooks Jordan.
Godfrey said it started with a single spark. “Two guys were cutting on a trailer,” he said. “They had watered down the area beforehand, like they should have, but one spark bit them. And with the wind the way it was, (the fire) was off to the races.”
While the two fires on Monday were “freak things” due to windy conditions, Godfrey said the fire danger index right now is high and that if there isn’t any relief soon from the weather, he may soon have to ask the county commissioners to enact a fire ban.
His advice to county residents: “If you’re going to burn in barrels, put screens over the top, and be careful with all outdoor burning — things like barbecue grills and charcoal grills included. Anybody using cutting torches should make sure to have water nearby, so what happened yesterday doesn’t happen again.”