Norton Point fire burns into the high country

Wind rose Lander WY August 1961
Norton Point fire
Norton Point fire along Frontier Creek. Photo: InciWeb

The Norton Point fire 19 miles north of Dubois, Wyoming has been burning vigorously over the last 48 hours or so, but in some areas it has moved into the high country of the Washakie Wilderness, where vegetation, or fuel, may become a limiting factor. The fire ranges from about 8,000 feet in elevation up to 10,000 feet, above which, the fuel, like the air, starts to become thin, which in some areas may slow down or even stop the spread. It is being managed at something less than a full suppression strategy. The IMTeam wrote on Inciweb:

The team is planning for a fire that may burn until snowfall.

Yesterday it was listed at 3,500 acres but an infrared mapping flight at 2:03 a.m. MT today revealed that it had grown to 9,320 acres. And judging from a heat detection map I saw this afternoon, that number is obsolete. Smoke from the fire is visible on weather satellite photos Wednesday afternoon .

Norton Point 3-D fire map 0203 7-27-2011
Click to enlarge. Norton Point 3-D map of the perimeter at 2:03 a.m. MT, July 27, 2011. (The terrain elevation is exaggerated to make it more visible.) Google Earth/USFS

A “short” version of Rocky Mountain Type 2 Incident Management Team A assumed command of the fire Tuesday morning but they hit the ground running, at least as far as providing information to the public. In less than 36 hours they have already created an InciWeb site, posted a detailed map of the perimeter on InciWeb, uploaded the perimeter file so that it can be viewed by anyone with Google Earth, and provided some photos. Cudos to Information Officer Sarah Gallup! This far exceeds what we have seen from many other incident management teams, Type 1 and Type 2, over the last few months. Todd Richardson’s IMTeam is setting the standard to which other teams should aspire.

The nearest automatic weather station to the fire is the Elkhorn RAWS station, about 8 miles south and 2,000 feet lower than the fire.

We received an inquiry from a resident of Dubois, Wyoming, south of the fire, asking:

Is there any way to predict which way the smoke will likely blow, ie toward dubois? I understand we are talking about six weeks of fire– obviously some of the time it will be in Dubois.

The IMTeam may have more detailed information, but we looked up some historic wind records, and found a “wind rose” that may shed some light on that question. The historic data closest to Dubois that we could find that summarized wind direction records was for Lander, WY (66 miles southeast of Dubois), provided by the Natural Resources Conservation service and WeatherUnderground.

The wind rose below, shows that approximately 86% of the time during the month of August in 1961, the wind was NOT generally out of the north, which would push smoke toward Dubois. In other words, approximately 14% of the time the wind was out of the NNW, N, or NNE.

Wind rose Lander WY August 1961
Click to enlarge. Wind rose for Lander, WY, August, 1961. NRCS

The bars point in the direction the wind was FROM. The longer they are, the more frequent winds occurred from that direction.

Below is data for Lander for the month of August, 2010, shown in a different format. The numbers on the bottom are the dates, and the numbers on the left are the direction, i.e., 0 and 360 are north, 90 is east, 180 is south, and 270 is west.

Wind direction chart Lander WY August 2010
Wind direction chart Lander, WY August, 2010. WeatherUnderground

I am no expert, but it appears that smoke from the Norton Point fire would seldom be a problem in Dubois. Meeteetse, northeast of the fire, will probably smell more smoke than Dubois.

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Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire.

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