The Crow Peak Fire continues to burn near Spearfish, South Dakota

Above: Air Tanker 161, an RJ85, drops on the north side of the Crow Peak Fire at 4:56 p.m. MDT June 27, 2016. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

(UPDATED at 10:32 a.m. MDT June 28, 2016)

The Incident Management Team on the Crow Peak Fire near Spearfish, South Dakota reported that a Monday night flight by a heat-sensing fixed wing aircraft determined that the fire has burned 943 acres, but they have not released a map based on this new, more accurate information.

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(UPDATED at 10:30 p.m. MDT June 27, 2016)

The Crow Peak Fire was actively backing down the steep slopes of Crow Peak again on Monday. We were 21 miles away in Sturgis at 3:15 when it put up a convection column for a while (scroll down to see the photo). Later we got closer and grabbed a few photos.

At 4 p.m. on Monday the Incident Management Team estimated the size at 1,000 acres. They explained that the increase in smoke was due to interior burning on the southern portion of the fire. Firefighters are continuing burning operations on the north side.

The air tanker photo above was taken on the north side of the fire. The aircraft may have been supporting a burnout.

From a distance we saw several air tanker drops by P2V and RJ85 tankers, but only got decent photos of Tanker 161, an RJ85. At  one point on Monday there were four air tankers working out of Rapid City Tanker Base. By the end of the day one had been sent to a fire near Billings, one was relocated somewhere else, and another was down for maintenance.

Crow Peak Fire
The Crow Peak Fire at 4:59 p.m. MDT June 27, 2016. Photo by Bill Gabbert.
Crow Peak Fire
The Crow Peak Fire at 4:50 p.m. MDT June 27, 2016. Photo by Bill Gabbert.
Crow Peak Fire
The Crow Peak Fire at 4:59 p.m. MDT June 27, 2016. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

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(UPDATED at 3:30 p.m. MDT June 27, 2017)


As you can see from this quick cell phone picture above taken from Sturgis (21 miles away), the Crow Peak fire was pretty active at 3:15 p.m. today.

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(UPDATED at  7:55 a.m. MDT June 27, 2016)

Evacuations remain in effect as the 313-acre Crow Peak Fire burns into its fourth day about four miles southwest of Spearfish, South Dakota. As the fire backs down the steep slopes of Crow Peak, large helicopters and air tankers are assisting the 135 firefighters on the ground.

Map Crow Peak Fire
Map showing heat detected by a satellite over the Crow Peak Fire at 4:07 a.m. MDT June 27, 2016. Click to enlarge.

Continue reading “The Crow Peak Fire continues to burn near Spearfish, South Dakota”

Wildfire activity increases in the Black Hills

(Originally published at 10:12 MDT June 26, 2016; Douglas fire updated at 2:10 p.m. MDT June 25, 2016))

Crow Peak Fire
Crow Peak Fire June 25, 2016. Photo by Robert Cota, Boxelder Job Corps Crew 15 Fire Program Manager, Black Hills National Forest.

Firefighters are suppressing four wildfires in the Black Hills of Wyoming and South Dakota, ranging from 64 to 5,000 acres.

Fires Black Hills
Fires in the Black Hills June 25, 2016. Click to enlarge.

Kara Creek: 5,000 acres 4 miles east of Keyhole Reservoir, 15 miles west of Sundance, Wyoming, and about 3 miles north of Interstate 90. Before the fire was reported Friday evening a lightning storm accompanied by very strong winds hit the area. Air tankers, Type 1 hand crews, and Type 2IA hand crews have been ordered.

A resident of Upton, Wyoming told us that the clouds were generating rain but it evaporated before hitting the ground. They said the fire was putting up a large amount of smoke Friday evening.

(UPDATE at 5:54 p.m. MDT June 25: with the growth of the Kara Creek fire to 12,000 acres, we dedicated a separate article to just that fire. It has much more information about this fire.

Douglas: 1,785 acres; it started Thursday 10 miles southwest of Sundance, Wyoming and is being managed by a Type 3 incident management team. On Friday the fire was most active on the southwest side where, according to the Rapid City Journal, new evacuations were ordered. More information is in our earlier article about the Douglas Fire, and we have a gallery of photos here.

(UPDATE for the Douglas Fire at 2:10 p.m. MDT June 25, 2016)

At about 11 a.m. today fire officials for the Douglas Fire released this information:

The Douglas Fire saw growth early in the day yesterday but stabilized as the day went on. The fire is estimated at 2000 acres and is now contained.

Incident Command of the Douglas Fire shifted to Type 4 Incident Commander Dallas Roth this morning. Four fire engines and one handcrew will remain on the Douglas Fire to ensure the fire stays contained.

The evacuation of Sundance Canyon Ranch subdivision has been lifted.

Rapid Creek: 1,000 acres. It was reported Friday afternoon near the intersection of 158th Avenue and East Highway 44, 24 miles southeast of Rapid City in the Farmingdale area. The heat-sensing satellites did not detect any heat overnight from this fire, which may indicate that it burned in light fuels, such as grass, and was relatively cool during the subsequent overflight.

Crow Peak: 64 acres, 5 miles west of Spearfish, SD. A Type 3 incident management team has been ordered. Great Plains dispatch office reported that firefighters were pulled off the fire Friday night due to the passage of a cold front bringing strong winds. The fire was reported Friday afternoon.

UPDATE at 8:48 a.m. MDT June 26, 2016:  More recent information about the Crow Peak and Kara Creek Fires. A Type 2 incident management team, with Incident Commander Shane Greer, has been ordered. The Forest Service reports the Crow Peak Fire has burned 250 acres.

Crow Peak Fire
Crow Peak Fire June 25, 2016. Photo by Robert Cota, Boxelder Job Corps Crew 15 Fire Program Manager, Black Hills National Forest.

Douglas Fire photo gallery

Above: smoke from the Douglas Fire. Photo by Ryan Cutter.

This gallery of photos of the Douglas Fire southwest of Sundance, Wyoming consists of pictures taken on June 22 and 23, 2016.

As noted in the captions, the photos were taken by Ryan Cutter of Classic Helicopters, and a resident who eventually had to evacuate, Kathy Loveland. The images by Bill Gabbert are identified by a watermark in the bottom-left corner.

Details about the Douglas Fire are in our main article about the fire.

If you click on one photo you’ll see a much larger version. Then you can click the left or right arrows to see others at the same size.

Wyoming: Douglas Fire southwest of Sundance

(UPDATED at 7:25 a.m. MDT June 23, 2016)

The Incident Management Team on the Douglas Fire 10 mile southwest of Sundance, Wyoming reported Thursday evening that the fire grew from 257 acres the day before to 1,400 acres. The evacuation orders have been lifted, but 50 residences are still threatened.

map Douglas Fire
Map showing heat detected on the Douglas Fire by a satellite at 3:23 a.m. MDT June 2,4 2016.

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(UPDATED at 9:10 a.m. MDT June 23, 2016)

helicopter bell 206
Pilot Ryan Cutter gets the Bell 206 ready for another day shift on the Douglas Fire, June 23, 2016. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

The Douglas Fire southwest of Sundance, Wyoming has burned approximately 700 to 800 acres, according to an early rough estimate from Incident Commander Dick Terry at 8:25 a.m. MDT on June 23. Mr. Terry had just finished a helicopter recon flight and said the biggest challenge today would be the “nasty winds”. They  will have a more accurate size estimate after a GPS flight.

Douglas Fire, June 23, 2016. Photo by Bill Gabbert.


Evacuations ordered yesterday are still in effect for the small number of people that had to leave their homes.

One structure has burned, described by Mr. Terry as not just an outbuilding but a “good shop”.

Approximately 120 personnel and one Wyoming state helicopter are assigned.

We created a gallery of more photos from the Douglas Fire.

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(Originally published June 22, 2016)

Douglas Fire
The Douglas Fire as seen from Sundance, Wyoming, 7 p.m. MDT June 22, 2016. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

I drove past this fire on I-90 Wednesday. It is the Douglas Fire 11 miles southwest of Sundance, Wyoming. It was reported at about 10 p.m. on Tuesday. It is listed at 300 acres, but was very active Wednesday afternoon.

Map Douglas Fire
Map showing heat detected by a satellite over the Douglas Fire at 1:45 p.m. MDT June 22, 2016.

Todd Pechota receives FMO of the year award

The U.S. Forest Service announced that Todd Pechota, Forest Fire Management Officer (FMO) on the Black Hills National Forest, is the recipient of the 2015 National Forest FMO of the Year award. He received the honor during a recent ceremony at the U.S. Forest Service Regional Office in Colorado.

The Black Hills National forest is in the Black Hills of western South Dakota and northeast Wyoming.

Todd Pechota
Todd Pechota, in a screen grab from a video as he was interviewed about the Whaley prescribed fire north of Hill City, SD, January 13, 2016.

The award recognizes the most outstanding fire manager in the U.S. Forest Service each year.  It has a long and prestigious history of honoring fire managers who have exhibited exceptional leadership in Forest Fire Management leadership as a Forest Fire Management Officer.

“Todd is an exceptional leader in wildland fire,” said Craig Bobzien, Black Hills National Forest Supervisor.  “This award is a testament to the work he has accomplished. It underscores the relationships he has developed locally and across the nation, and the special care that he has shown for all those that have worked with him.”

In addition to his position as FMO on the Black Hills National Forest, Pechota serves as the Incident Commander for the Rocky Mountain Type 1 Incident Management Team and is past Chairman of the Great Plains Regional Dispatch Board of Directors.

Wildland fire management in Wyoming

The University of Wyoming has issued a publication about the patterns, influences, and effects of wildland fire in the state.

The University of Wyoming paper covers basic facts about fire, weather, intensity, severity, prescribed burning, as well as fire effects and interactions with soils, plants, livestock, wildlife, and bark beetle outbreaks. The document is 16 pages long with an additional 8 pages of references and a glossary. It was written by Derek Scasta, Assistant Professor and Extension Rangeland Specialist.

A couple of items attracted my attention. One is the graphic at the top of this article, the mean fire return interval for Wyoming. If you’re familiar with the geography of an area, data like this can absorb your interest for a while. The map appears to be a section taken out of the whole country map.

Another topic covered in the publication is the relationship between precipitation and acres burned.

Wyoming precipitation acres burned

The chart above from the paper uses the total Wyoming statewide annual precipitation compared with the total number of acres burned in wildfires each year. We have been thinking that the weather in the summer has a greater effect on acres burned than weather throughout the year. Those weather factors include temperature, relative humidity, wind, and precipitation, and a few others used by the National Fire Danger Rating System. It’s beyond our capacity to analyze all of those, unless we use an index that takes multiple parameters into account, such as the Burning Index or the Energy Release Component.

Wyoming precipitation acres burned, WildfireToday

But what we did (immediately above) was to take one weather parameter from the summer and plotted it on a chart similar to the UofW chart– average monthly precipitation each year for June, July, and August. The weather data came from NOAA, and the acres burned was extracted from the University of Wyoming chart.

Included among the disclaimers is that average precipitation across the state does not apply to every square mile. Thunderstorms in the summer could be hammering one area, while a major fire is burning somewhere else. And, using only precipitation does not take into account temperature, relative humidity, and wind, which are all very important.

If anyone is interested in analyzing the Wyoming fire occurrence data using another weather factor or NFDRS Index (from the summer months), below are the numbers I used. Or, if you’d like to look at another state or geographic area, that would be fine. It’s important to analyze the acres burned and the weather observations for a large area in order get a sample of sufficient size to make it statistically significant. For example, use 15 to 20 years of information from a large national forest with multiple weather stations to reduce the data-skewing impact of a gully-washer thunderstorm at one location.

wyoming acres burned precipitation