Aug 11, 2015

Fire west of Dayton nearly contained; firefighting scaled down

After more than a week and roughly $1.4 million worth of firefighting efforts, a wildfire west of Dayton has effectively been contained.

The Sheep Creek Fire, which started Aug. 2, was described as 90 percent contained as of Monday night.

Fire managers said it had burned through about 1,667 acres, roughly four miles west of Dayton.

Operations were being transferred from a state-level firefighting team to local agencies on Tuesday morning, though an incident commander planned to remain on scene with a light helicopter for at least a few more days.

"It is important for the public to remember that smoke may be visible from the interior of the fire from time to time, possibly even until the first snowfall," fire information officer Kristie Salzmann, said Monday evening.

Though Friday's intentional burnout appeared dramatic, it actually prevented embers from escalating the wildfire, fire managers say. Photo courtesy U.S. Forest Service

Investigators determined that people somehow started the fire, but their investigation continues into exactly what happened. Salzmann said the Sheridan County Sheriff’s Office and Bighorn National Forest law enforcement have some solid leads as to the fire’s exact cause. If it can be proven a person or persons were responsible for the fire, they can be held both financially and criminally liable, she said.

A burnout operation on Friday removed unburnt fuels — trees, grass and brush — and prevented the wildfire’s embers from being thrown over the ridge line to fuel more fire, Salzmann said. There are still plenty of green trees on the northern end of the fire thanks to Friday’s burnout, she said.

Although some Dayton residents were worried, fire managers had a lot of contingencies in place to protect Dayton and outlying property, she said.

“No structure was ever threatened, and, we’ve had no injuries either,” Salzmann said.  

The Amsden Creek Wildlife Habitat Management Area remains closed. Big Horn National Forest trail 002, Tongue Canyon Trail, will remain closed until hazards have been removed and it's deemed safe for the public.

"Please respect these closures as they are in place for public safety," Salzmann said.

Future updates on these closures will be made available through the Wyoming Game & Fish and the US Forest Service.

During the height of operations, firefighters camped on the grounds of Dayton’s Tongue River High School. Firefighters were fed in the high school cafeteria and auditorium was used to conduct public fire updates. People in Dayton have been very helpful, Salzmann said, adding, “It made us feel like it was our home away from home.”

Cooperators involved in managing the Sheep Creek Fire have been Wyoming State Forestry Division, Dayton Volunteer Fire Department, Wyoming Game and Fish Department, various Sheridan County entities include the Sheriff’s Office and the Fire Warden, Bighorn National Forest, and Bureau of Land Management.

~Gib Mathers contributed reporting


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