Berry Fire closes south entrance to Yellowstone National Park

(Originally published at 10:14 a.m. MDT August 23, 2016)

Map Berry Fire
Map of the Berry Fire. The red dots represent heat detected by a satellite at 4:31 a.m. MDT August 23, 2016. The yellow dots were detected within the previous 6 days. Click to enlarge.

The Berry Fire in Grand Teton National Park more than doubled in size Monday, closing Highway 89 which leads to the south entrance of Yellowstone National Park. The highway is closed at Leeks Marina road (south) and the Flagg Ranch (north) and will remain closed indefinitely, a park spokesperson announced Tuesday morning.

Pushed by a 5 to 8 mph southwest wind gusting up to 22 mph, the fire ran out of the park to the northeast crossing the northern tip of Jackson Lake, the Snake River, and Highway 89. It then spread into the John D. Rockefeller Jr. Memorial Parkway and the Bridger-Teton National Forest. Lizard Creek Campground has been evacuated.

Map Berry Fire 3-d
3-D Map of the Berry Fire looking north. The red dots represent heat detected by a satellite at 4:31 a.m. MDT August 23, 2016. The yellow dots were detected within the previous 6 days. Click to enlarge.

The rapid fire spread on Monday added about 3,800 acres, bringing the size of the Berry Fire up to approximately 6,900 acres as of 4:31 a.m. on Tuesday.

Motorists expecting to enter Yellowstone from the popular south entrance will be forced to take long detours stretching for hundreds of miles. They may not be pleased to learn that National Park Service officials decided on July 25 when the Berry Fire started to allow the fire to “enhance the area’s natural resources”, rather than suppress it. 

The moderately strong winds that caused the fire to leave Grand Teton National Park were accompanied Monday by 7 percent relative humidity and 80 degree temperatures.

Grand Teton National Park brought in a Type 3 incident management team for the fire on August 21 when Red Flag Warnings for extreme wildfire danger appeared in the weather forecast. At that time there were 25 personnel assigned. As of August 22 that had increased to 39. Eight fires listed on the August 23 National Situation Report have more than 500 personnel assigned. Five have more than 1,300. However, those fires are larger and are threatening more structures.

Now that the fire has closed Highway 89 and burned outside the park they have ordered a higher level team, a Type 2 team to manage the fire, with Incident Commander Tim Roide. The next level up would be a Type 1 team.

map fires yellowstone grand teton national parks
Wildfires in Yellowstone NP and Grand Teton NP. The red areas represent heat detected by a satellite at 4:31 a.m. MDT August 23, 2016. The yellow areas were detected within the previous 6 days. Click to enlarge.

There are three active fires in Yellowstone National Park, the Maple, Fawn, and Buffalo fires. We covered these earlier. They all continued to spread on Monday. The Maple fire east of West Yellowstone, Montana marched another mile to the north, but was active on most of the perimeter. The park says all roads and businesses remain open, including the east and west entrances and the highway that goes right by the Maple Fire, Highway 20.

Five wildfires burning in Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks

The five fires have burned over 28,000 acres

Above: The Maple Fire, August 15, 2016. NPS photo.

(UPDATE at 9 p.m. MDT August 22, 2016)

(Tuesday morning August 23 we posted updated information about the Berry Fire and the closure of the south entrance to Yellowstone National Park.)

Earlier on Monday we repeated the information provided by the National Park Service that the roads in Yellowstone National Park remained open, in spite of the five ongoing fires in that park and just to the south, Grand Teton National Park. That changed Monday evening.

See the map below. The Berry Fire is in the north end of Grand Teton NP just south of the south entrance into Yellowstone NP. Highway 89 is the only way to enter Yellowstone on the south.

Normally from Moran, WY to Yellowstone Lake at Lake, WY, it is a 68 mile trip. With Highway 89 closed, detouring to the east would be a 344-mile journey. Detouring to the west would be 213 miles.

The Berry Fire is not listed in the national situation report. Park management decided to not aggressively suppress the fire, but to “monitor” and “manage” it.

The greater Yellowstone area is under a Red Flag Warning on Monday.

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There are five wildfires burning in Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks in Wyoming and Montana, which together have burned over 28,000 acres. Four are being managed with a less than full suppression strategy, while one was aggressively attacked and has not been very active in the last 24 hours.

Northwest Wyoming is under a Red Flag Warning on Monday.

Officials in Yellowstone National Park emphasize that all roads leading into and through the park are open. Park visitor facilities, including park concession-operated services and businesses in the surrounding communities are not impacted by the fires and remain open.

map yellowstone fires grand teton national park
Fires in Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks, showing heat detected by a satellite. The red dots represent the most recent, seen at 3:11 a.m. MDT August 22, 2016.

Yellowstone National Park fires

  • Fawn Fire, 1,496 acres in the northwest corner of the park. Since it started August 4 it has been intermittently active and has been spreading during the last two days.
  • Maple Fire, 22,448 acres 4 miles east of West Yellowstone, Montana. It was first reported by personnel in a smokejumper aircraft passing over the park. The fire has come very close to US Highway 20, but has not crossed it. The highway leads to the west entrance into the park.  The fire has been active on most of its perimeter over the last 24 hours. Should smoke or fire activity increase, pilot cars may be used to safely escort vehicles through the area. 
  • Buffalo Fire, 2,279 acres, in the north-central part of the park, 3 miles northeast of Tower Junction (US Highway 212 and the Grand Loop Road) and half a mile south of the park’s northern boundary. The recent activity has been on the north edge of the fire. Since it was reported on August 13 it has been managed under a combination of monitoring and point-protection strategies.
  • Boundary Fire, 192 acres in Montana 5 miles north of West Yellowstone, Montana and very close to the park’s western boundary. Park personnel have actively suppressed this fire, and it has not been very active in the last 24 hours. A smaller Incident Management Team, a Type 4 team, assumed command Monday morning. Firefighters are mopping up and removing hazardous trees within the perimeter.

Grand Teton National Park

  • Berry Fire, 1,785 acres in the north end of the park, one mile west of the northern end of Jackson Lake, and 2 miles west of Highway 89 (providing photo opportunities for passing tourists). The fire has been active over most of its perimeter during the last 24 hours. It has been burning for almost a month and is now being managed by a Type 3 Incident Management Team which is planning for the expected growth of the fire. An objective of the Team is to “enhance the area’s natural resources where appropriate”. They further state, “The fire will be monitored and management actions will be implemented in advance of any potential impact on values at risk.” The fire has not required the closure of any roads.
Berry Fire
Berry Fire, Aug 15, 2016, NPS photo.

Fire activity increases in Wyoming

Above: Fawn Fire in Yellowstone National Park, August 6, 2016. NPS photo.

Originally published at 5:23 p.m. MDT August 11, 2016.

map wildfires Wyoming
Wildfires in northwest Wyoming August 11, 2016. Click to enlarge.

There are five wildfires currently active in northwest Wyoming.

Twin Lakes Fire
Twin Lakes Fire. Inciweb photo.

The Babaganoush Fire has been renamed the Twin Lakes Fire, we assume because no one could pronounce or spell the name. It was reported on August 8 but has been very active over the last 24 hours growing to about 1,400 acres 35 miles southwest of Meeteetse. A Type 2 incident management team has been ordered.

The Hunter Peak Fire was reported on August 9 about 16 miles southeast of the northeast entrance of Yellowstone National Park, three miles south of the intersection of US Highway 212 and the Chief Joseph Highway. It has burned about 1,700 acres and required some evacuations; 95 structures are threatened. Todd Pechota’s Type 1 Incident Management Team assumed command of the fire at 6 a.m. Thursday.

The Whit Fire 13 miles west of Cody been burning for nine days and did not increase in size on Wednesday. It has blackened over 12,000 acres and still has quite a bit of heat in the southwest portion. (Our previous article about the Whit Fire.)

There are two fires in Yellowstone National Park. The Fawn Fire is in the backcountry in the northwest section of the park 10 miles west of Mammoth and the north entrance. This 930-acre fire is being monitored from the air and was quite active Wednesday.

Fawn Fire,
Fawn Fire, August 8, 2016. NPS photo.

The other fire in the park is the Maple Fire which has burned about 100 acres 8 miles northeast of the community of West Yellowstone. It also was active Wednesday evening in a large expanse of the scar left by the 1988 North Fork Fire. It will be managed under a monitoring and point-protection strategy providing fire managers a unique opportunity to study current fire behavior in the 1988 fire scar.

The spread of the Whit Fire west of Cody, WY slows

(UPDATED at 11:25 a.m. MDT August 5, 2016)

Whit Fire
Whit Fire August 3, 2016. Photo by Charlie Springer.

The Whit Fire 13 miles west of Cody, Wyoming was much less active Thursday than the day before. According to the aerial mapping during the last two nights it grew on the southwest and northeast sides by a total of several hundred acres, but the incident management team is still calling it 9,647 acres. The discrepancy could be related to issues with the imagery Wednesday night.

One home and seven outbuildings have been destroyed in the fire.

Whit Fire map
Map of the Whit Fire as detected by aerial mapping. The white line was the estimated perimeter at 10 p.m. MDT August 3, 2016. The red line was the perimeter at 12:30 a.m. MDT on August 5, 2016.

On Thursday two water-scooping air tankers, CL-415’s, were delighting tourists that were on US Highway 16 driving past the Buffalo Bill Reservoir on the way to Yellowstone National Park. The aircraft were skimming along the water surface loading about 1,600 gallons into their tanks and then flying to the fire, assisting firefighters by dropping water to slow the spread. The reservoir is only six miles from the fire, which enabled quick turnarounds.

CL-415 Buffalo Bill Reservoir
Air tanker 263, a CL-415, scoops water from the Buffalo Bill Reservoir at 8:01 p.m. MDT on August 4, 2016 while working the Whit Fire. 

At times the vehicles stopped on or near the roadway created a safety hazard. Kristie Salzmann, a spokesperson for the fire, said law enforcement is now actively discouraging that practice. There are other locations that can be used safely, including various locations in the state park, and the boat launch which is closed since no boaters are allowed on the lake while the scoopers are working. The same aircraft are expected to be assigned to the fire on Friday.

Whit Fire
Whit Fire August 3, 2016. InciWeb photo.

Todd Pechota’s Type 1 incident management team assumed command of the fire at 6 a.m. on Friday.

Continue reading “The spread of the Whit Fire west of Cody, WY slows”

Lava Mountain Fire northwest of Dubois, Wyoming

Lava Mountain Fire
Lava Mountain Fire July 18, 2016 InciWeb

In the first 13 days since starting from a lightning strike, the Lava Mountain Fire 12 miles northwest of Dubois, Wyoming had been steadily growing, but generally not at a rapid pace. That began to change on Sunday when the rate of spread picked up significantly and it added an additional 1,200 acres for a total of 5,488 acres. On Monday it added at least that much again and according to our very rough, unofficial estimate had burned approximately 7,000 acres by 3 p.m. on Monday.

Most of the recent growth is on the south and southeast sides.

map Lava Mountain Fire
The red dots represent heat detected on the Lava Mountain Fire by a satellite at 3:01 p.m. MDT July 25, 2016. The red line was the fire perimeter mapped by an infrared aircraft at 11 p.m. MDT July 24, 2016. Click to enlarge.

Currently, the south flank of the fire is pushing east and hooking around near the Sand Butte area. According to information released by the incident management team on July 25, “If the direction of spread continues, the fire will be lined up to be pushed by the wind towards the Union Pass road. For these reasons the following areas are in stage “GO” and should evacuate immediately: Union Pass, Warm Springs, Porcupine, and Hat Butte.”

The weather forecast for the fire area calls for strong winds Monday night, but slowing on Tuesday and Wednesday to come out of the west and southwest at 6 to 13 mph. The temperatures will be in the high 70’s and relative humidity in the teens through Wednesday.

Cliff Creek Fire continues to spread north of Bondurant, Wyoming

(UPDATED at 11 a.m. MDT July 22, 2016)

The DeMasters Type 2 Incident Management Team released a little more information about the Cliff Creek Fire that has forced the closure of Highway 189/191, one of the highways leading to Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks. The size is now 11,534 acres. One structure has burned.

Teton County Emergency Management issued a mandatory evacuation order for the Granite Creek area including Granite Campground, Granite Hot Springs, Jack Pine Summer Homes, and the Safari Club.

For official evacuation information check the Teton County Emergency Management web site.

The U.S. Forest Service and the Incident Management Team state in the update, as they have before, that “The fire is being actively suppressed”, but that is not entirely true. The Bridger-Teton National Forest has directed the Team to use a “confine/contain” strategy. This means they will attempt to herd it around and put out portions of the fire edge as it becomes necessary. But the objective is not to fully suppress the fire. They are no doubt “actively suppressing” some sections of the fire where it endangers private property and structures, but “confine/contain” usually refers to allowing some areas of a fire to spread unconstrained.  They may decide to allow the fire to advance unfettered to the east and northeast into the higher elevations above 9,000 feet where it will begin to run out of fuel.

It was no accident that the “actively suppressing” language was chosen for the press release. The U.S. Forest Service should not issue intentionally misleading information to the public.

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(UPDATED at 7:53 a.m. MDT July 22, 2016)

map Cliff Creek Fire
The red dots represent heat detected by a satellite on the Cliff Creek Fire at 2:55 a.m. MDT July 22. The red line was the perimeter about 52 hours before. Click to enlarge.

As the Cliff Creek Fire burns into its sixth day the U.S. Forest Service and DeMasters’ Type 2 Incident Management Team are not releasing much information about the fire which has closed for several days Highway 191, a major highway leading to Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks. The fire 12 air miles southeast of Hoback, Wyoming is not being totally suppressed, but is a “confine/contain” fire, which means they will attempt to herd it around and put out portions of the fire edge as it becomes necessary.

One structure and 10,118 acres have burned. Evacuations for the community of Bondurant have been lifted.

The fire was discovered on the Bridger-Teton National Forest at 2:30pm on Sunday, July 17, approximately 5 miles north of the town of Bondurant Wyoming.

It is being managed by 620 personnel, 16 hand crews, 33 engines, and 7 helicopters at a cost to date of $2,200,000.

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(UPDATED at 11:54 a.m. MDT July 20, 2016)

Cliff Creek Fire
Cliff Creek Fire July 20, 2016. USFS photo.

The Cliff Creek Fire 3 miles north of Bondurant, Wyoming continued to spread over the last 24 hours to the north and east. It has consumed approximately 7,671 acres and one structure.

Continue reading “Cliff Creek Fire continues to spread north of Bondurant, Wyoming”