Aug 6, 2016

Whit Fire 15 percent contained; evacuation orders lifted

Fire crews managed to contain 15 percent of the Whit Fire on Friday, making “significant progress” on the fire’s northwestern edge.

Further, “ALL EVACUATIONS HAVE BEEN LIFTED!!” fire managers enthusiastically announced on Saturday morning. “Residents and landowners are now allowed back to their property.”

That’s good news for a couple hundred North and South Fork residents who’d been told to leave their homes on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Two of the CL415 (“Superscoopers”) parked at Yellowstone Regional Airport on Friday. Photo courtesy Bruce Salzmann/InciWeb
The Whit Fire, about 12 miles west of Cody, was estimated at roughly 10,200 acres on Saturday. Around 500 firefighters were working to snuff it out, with more on the way. The crew being supervised by Type 1 Rocky Mountain Incident Management Team on Saturday included 12 hand crews, 22 fire engines, three water tends, nine helicopters and seven airplanes.

Crews have been working on firelines to stop the fire’s growth to the north and south and have continued to “mop-up, assess, triage and patrol properties in the fire’s vicinity” on both the North and South Forks. Some crews were going to be ferried in by helicopter to the flanks of the fire on Saturday.

After roaring to 9,600 acres between Tuesday afternoon and Wednesday night, the Whit Fire had relatively little growth on Thursday and Friday. However, Friday night cloud cover kept humidity lower and temperatures higher, so fire managers suspect it could be more active on Saturday.

Fire managers plan to hold another public meeting about the Whit Fire at 6 p.m. Saturday at Glenn Livingston Elementary School.

Authorities have said the fire appears to have been accidentally started by a person on Whit Creek Road, south of the North Fork Highway, on Tuesday afternoon.

Aug 5, 2016

‘Best of the best’ fighting Whit Fire west of Cody

Hundreds of firefighters have been summoned to fight a fire burning about 12 miles west of Cody on the North and South Forks of the Shoshone River.

A Type 1 management team — the most experienced type of firefighting crew — took over management of the 9,600 acre Whit Fire on Friday morning to continue working toward extinguishing the blaze.

One of the "Superscoopers" working the Whit Fire on Thursday evening. Photo courtesy Bruce Salzmann/Inciweb
“We’re going to try to take the threat out as soon as possible,” Shoshone National Forest Supervisor Joe Alexander said at a Thursday night meeting in Cody, adding, “It’s a complex event. We’ve got the right people here to take care of it.”

More than 230 firefighters were on the ground on Friday morning. Incident Commander Todd Pacheto predicted the number of personnel would eventually reach somewhere between 700 and 750 people.

As of Friday, a couple hundred North and South Fork residents remained under evacuation orders because of the fire. Park County Homeland Security Coordinator Mart Knapp said roughly 260 to 270 people had been directed to evacuate on Tuesday and Wednesday — though on Friday he figured that less than half of them had actually left their homes. (Update: all evacuation orders were lifted on Saturday morning.)

The fire began Tuesday afternoon on Whit Creek Road south of the North Fork Highway. Officials have not said how it started, but “it appears to have been human-caused, with no malicious intent — an accident,” said Bureau of Land Management Cody Field Manager Delissa Minnick.

Alexander said it was example of what can happen if “you get a spark at the wrong time in the wrong place with the wrong weather conditions.”

Fueled by high temperatures and dry, windy conditions, the fire had ripped across 9,600 acres by Wednesday night, spreading from the North Fork to the South Fork.

“As much as they tried to stop it and keep it in check ... with the terrain and fuels and (other environmental factors) ... there was just no stopping it,” said Cody Fire Marshal Sam Wilde. “It was going to do what it was going to do.”

One home and seven other structures had been destroyed as of Friday morning, according to the Park County Sheriff’s Office, but “it could have been a lot worse,” Wilde said.

He said it was “amazing” that the fire “went right around some of those homes (on the South Fork) and so (it was) very, very fortunate.”

Residents in the areas around the Whit Creek Road, Big Hat Ranch, Golden Key Ranch, Simek Ranch, and County Road 6NS and its connecting roads — including the Bear Creek Subdivision — all were told to evacuate between Tuesday afternoon and Wednesday evening.

Incident Commander Todd Pacheto addresses an audience of more than 120 people on Thursday night.
Sheriff’s Office spokesman Lance Mathess encouraged people to obey those orders.

“Put your property, put your trust in these guys,” Mathess said, saying firefighters have already demonstrated “that trust is well deserved.”

Fire managers described the Whit Fire as having become very complex, very quickly.

“We’ve got a lot of rugged and rough terrain out there; we have incredibly dry fuels,” said Minnick, adding that “it’s very dangerous for firefighters in a lot of places.”

A group of local firefighters — including from the Cody and Powell volunteer fire departments, the Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service — led the initial attack.

A Type 3 incident team had been headed to the Dubois area to help with the Lava Mountain Fire, but were diverted to Cody when the Whit Fire broke out Tuesday. In an exceptionally quick turnaround, the team was at the scene and took control at 11 a.m. Wednesday.

The commander of that Type 3 team, Andy Mandell, praised the “outstanding” work of local firefighters.

“They protected a lot of homes and worked some long hours,” Mandell said.
Wednesday proved a particularly stiff challenge.

“Shortly after (the Type 3) team arrived, things got pretty western out there,” said Minnick.

The Whit Fire sent up large columns of smoke during rapid Wednesday afternoon growth that pushed it into the Lower South Fork. Photo courtesy Yancy Bonner
She said high temperatures and wind gusts of up to 70 mph forced the teams to re-evaluate their tactics. That included having to back off the fire in some of the steeper places for the safety of firefighters, said Wilde.

Thanks to better weather and the work of firefighters, the Whit Fire had very little growth on Thursday.

Firefighters spent much of the day working to protect structures on both the North and South Forks.
Fire managers said their tactics will adapt as the fire evolves.

“We’re going to engage them (the firefighters) on this fire in ways that have a high probability of success,” Minnick said.

Friday’s fire fighting operations included 13 fire engines, nine helicopters, eight hand crews and seven airplanes — including four “Superscoopers.”

The planes and helicopters have been scooping water out of the Buffalo Bill Reservoir, which has been entirely closed to the public to aid those efforts. The Sheriff’s Office is also asking residents not to stop along U.S. Highway 14/16/20 to watch the planes and to not drive up the South Fork Highway to watch the fire.

Another public meeting is tentatively set for 6 p.m. Saturday at Livingston Elementary School.

Cody child runs lemonade stand to help fire victims

If there's been a silver lining about the Whit Fire west of town, it may be the emerging stories about locals who have stepped up to help and support those impacted by the fire.

Not far from the doors of a Thursday meeting about the status of the Whit Fire, a young Cody boy was selling lemonade and his own homemade cookies to raise money for those impacted by the blaze.

Gonzalo Anzurez, “really wanted to go help with the fire” on Wednesday, explained his mother, Cyndi Anzurez, adding, “He was concerned about the people and their homes and their beds.”

After being told that he'd need to leave the firefighting to the professionals, Gonzalo’s response was, “Well, I can sell lemonade and give the money to the people that lost all their stuff.”

Gonzalo Anzurez poses for a photo with his lemonade stand outside Livingston Elementary School. Cody News Co. photo by Tessa Schweigert
Cyndi Anzurez said the original plan was to open the stand on Sunday, but “that was not soon enough” for Gonzalo.

In his remarks at the meeting, Cody Fire Marshal Sam Wilde specifically mentioned Gonzalo’s stand as an example of the community support that's been expressed.

“If that doesn’t touch you, I don’t know what will,” Wilde said.

He described the support for the Cody Volunteer Fire Department as “just amazing” — from the citizens who’ve donated water, Gatorade, granola and other items to the support of firefighters’ employers, wives and families.

That was a common theme among the various fire managers who spoke at Thursday’s public briefing, as they each took time to express thanks for the outpouring of support.

“It's made me incredibly proud to be a member of the Cody community,” said Delissa Minnick, the Bureau of Land Management's Cody Field Manager.

Aug 4, 2016

After injuries, city putting new restrictions on Cody Gunfighters

After a Friday mishap that injured three spectators, the City of Cody plans to implement some new restrictions before allowing the Cody Gunfighters to resume their nightly downtown performances with firearms.

“We cannot and will not compromise safety. No one in this room could in good conscience want to compromise the safety of our citizens and our visitors,” Cody Mayor Nancy Tia Brown said at a Tuesday night council meeting. “And we’ve had an unfortunate situation and we need to rebound from it, but we need to rebound from it stronger and better than we were before.”

"We want to be as safe as anybody else," Cody Gunfighters member Don Bash told the council.
The Cody Gunfighters put on a free old West show in front of the Irma Hotel during the summer tourist season.

Cody police are still investigating what happened during Friday’s show, but it appears something was shot from one of the performers’ guns. Three tourists — including a 3-year-old child — suffered minor injuries, police have said; someone later told police that a “bullet” appeared to have also punctured a raft at the neighboring Red Canyon River Trips.

After the incident, Cody Police Chief Chuck Baker suspended the Cody Gunfighters’ authorization to discharge firearms in town. The group — which normally performs six nights a week — hasn’t put on a show since Friday.

The city council voted unanimously on Tuesday to continue that suspension until the Cody Gunfighters meet new safety criteria crafted by chief Baker.

A draft of those rules presented at Tuesday’s meeting included a requirement for the Gunfighters to have an “independent gun safety manager” oversee all of their performances — including pre-show inspections of the actors’ guns. The Gunfighters would also need to provide the safety manager’s contact information to police.

Gunfighter Don Bash told the council that, since the incident, group members have discussed possible changes. One idea would be to require that all the guns in the show are used only for the show, being locked up between performances “so they don’t go home, so they don’t leave the premises and they’re loaded every day right there,” he said.

“We’re trying to figure out how to make it safer, too,” Bash said. “But we do have a good record.”

He said last week’s “unfortunate accident” came among more than 2,200 shows, performed for more than a million spectators over 19 years.

Mayor Brown told the Gunfighters that the city will act quickly.
“We want to be as safe as anybody else,” Bash said, noting, “We’re shooting at each other.”

He said the group will work with Baker “any way we can.”

A couple people spoke about the importance of the Cody Gunfighters to local tourism.

Jennifer Gould, the manager of the Cody and Powell WYogurt stores, said the performances’ impact on downtown Cody businesses is “amazing” and especially important in “one of the weakest (summers) that we’ve seen in a while.”

“The fact is that any little boost like that that we can see, helps us big-time. It gives us a little bit of hope,” Gould said, adding, “The last few days (it) hasn’t been that way, and it’s very sad. It’s very hard.”

Cody council members indicated they understood the urgency.

Until the Cody Gunfighters can work out the new procedures with the police chief, Cody councilman Donny Anderson asked if the group might perform with squirt guns or pop guns; Councilwoman Karen Ballinger suggested using cap guns.

“It’s not the intent to shut this show down. It’s just ... to get it as safe as it can possibly be,” Ballinger said.

“I think you have all of our support; we’re just in a bind right now,” said Anderson.

While no specific timeline was given for working out the new safety standards, mayor Brown told the gunfighters in attendance that, “We’ll try to get you guys back in business as soon as we can.”

Whit Fire grows to 9,600 acres; meeting set for Thursday evening

The Whit Fire claimed two structures on Tuesday and blazed its way from the North Fork to the South Fork of the Shoshone River.

The fire, burning about 15 miles west of Cody on the sides of Sheep Mountain, was reported Tuesday afternoon.

Whit Fire managers estimated its size at around 3,000 acres on Wednesday afternoon, but a overnight flight with infrared equipment later found the fire had grown to 9,647 acres. Wednesday was “a day of very active burning,” said Kristie Salzmann, Shoshone National Forest public affairs officer.

Fire managers have scheduled a 6 p.m. public meeting at Cody's Livingston Elementary School to share information about the fire and discuss their plans for fighting it.

A helicopter dumps water on an edge of the Whit Fire on Wednesday evening. Photo courtesy Yancy Bonner

As of Thursday morning, the Park County Sheriff's Office and Park County Office of Homeland Security had evacuated multiple areas on the North and South Forks: Whit Creek Road, the Big Hat Ranch, Golden Key Ranch, Simek Ranch and Road 6NS – including the Bear Creek Subdivision.

"All residents in the South and North Fork should monitor fire conditions closely and be prepared to leave at a moment's notice," the Sheriff's Office said in a Thursday morning Facebook post. In an earlier posting, the Sheriff's Office noted that it can not force anyone to leave their homes, "but rest assured that if we advise a mandatory evacuation, the situation is life-threatening and we strongly urge residents to leave under those conditions."

The Sheriff's Office said there's been a steady increase in the amount of traffic on the South Fork Highway because of curious onlookers; it asked people on Thursday to avoid the South and North Fork areas of the fire unless they live or have official business in the area.

"Also, it is a crime to interfere with fire fighting efforts so please stay away and let the fire fighters (do) their jobs," the office said in a post.

The Shoshone National Forest has closed the Green Creek and Twin Creek trails because of the blaze; the BLM has closed the Sheep Mountain Trail.

Approximately 175 people were working the Whit Fire as of Thursday morning, Salzmann said. That included seven helicopters, three air attack planes, 18 engines and three hands crews – including the Wyoming Interagency Hotshots and the Payson Interagency Hotshots.

A map of the Whit Fire, as of Wednesday night.
The Central West Zone Type 3 Incident Management Team took over operations on Wednesday, assisted by the Bureau of Land Management, Shoshone National Forest, Park County and the Wyoming State Forestry Division.

Area fire departments, BLM, U.S. Forest Service and Wyoming State Forestry personnel have all fought the fire, Salzmann said.

The Cody Volunteer Fire Department was dispatched early Tuesday afternoon and requested the Powell Volunteer Fire Department to provide mutual aid; Powell firefighters complied around 2 p.m. that day. Six Powell firefighters and their trucks were on the fire Tuesday afternoon and late into the evening.

Powell firefighters again were called to the scene by Park County Dispatch around 1 p.m., Wednesday and they expected to remain through the evening.

Authorities have not yet released any information about how the fire started, saying only that the cause is “under investigation.” Salzmann did say the fire began in grass and sagebrush and moved to areas with trees. She did not know what type of structures were destroyed by the fire on Tuesday.

The Whit Fire was zero percent contained as of Thursday morning.

Aug 2, 2016

Krone's first court date reset for Election Day

A Cody lawmaker charged with stealing more than $9,600 from a local lawyers' group is now scheduled to make his first court appearance on the day of the primary election.

On Friday, the Wyoming Attorney General's Office charged Rep. Sam Krone, R-Cody, with three felony and four misdemeanor counts of larceny or theft. The allegations are that, between March 2010 and October 2013, Krone used his position as Park County Bar Association treasurer to take $9,633.17 of the association's money for himself.

State Rep. Sam Krone
Krone has noted that he is innocent until proven guilty and says he's continuing with his bid for re-election in House District 24. He's being challenged in the Aug. 16 primary by fellow Republican Scott Court, also of Cody.

Krone was initially scheduled to make his first court appearance today (Tuesday) in Cody. On Monday, however, Krone asked presiding Circuit Court Judge Thomas Harrington of Worland to delay the hearing.

In support of his request, Krone said he didn't receive a complete copy of the charging documents until Monday; he also said he wanted to have a defense attorney before his initial appearance and that he was still "actively seeking" one as of Monday.

Judge Harrington granted the request late Monday afternoon and re-set Krone's initial appearance for 11:30 a.m. on Aug. 16.

The Wyoming Attorney General's Office had not objected to a delay.

Aug 1, 2016

Tourists reportedly injured at Cody Gunfighters' performance

Three tourists reportedly suffered minor injuries during a staged gun-fighting performance on Friday evening in downtown Cody.

The incident prompted Cody Police Chief Chuck Baker to temporarily suspend the Cody Gunfighters’ ability to discharge firearms in town; police continued to investigate what happened on Monday.

The Cody Gunfighters — generally volunteers — perform a nightly show Monday through Saturday, June through September, in the street in front of the Irma Hotel.

Cody Gunfighters Performance
The Cody Gunfighters stage a nightly show during the summer months. File photo courtesy The Irma Hotel
Cody police were called there around 6:30 p.m. Friday for a report of three people who “had been struck by some type of fragments from the Gunfighters’ show,” chief Baker said in a news release.

A 22-year-old man from New York was treated at the scene by a responding ambulance crew from West Park Hospital, the release said; two other people from Minnesota — a 37-year-old man and his 3-year-old daughter — went to West Park in a private vehicle, where they received treatment for minor injuries and were released, police said.

Responding officers “recovered evidence” and spoke with the victims, actors and other bystanders, Baker said.

“The prop weapons used (by the gunfighters) were inspected and taken as evidence,” he said, adding that everyone was cooperative.

Police logs say that, on Saturday morning, someone discovered that a raft at a nearby river rafting business had apparently been punctured in the incident, too.

The police department is asking anyone with with video or photos of Friday night’s performance to contact Detective Ron Parduba at 527-8727.

Baker said the case will be reviewed with the Park County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office.

It’s generally a violation of Cody’s municipal ordinances to discharge a firearm in the city, but the council grants special permission to the Cody Gunfighters each year.

At tonight’s (Tuesday’s) Cody City Council meeting, the council is scheduled to consider ratifying Baker’s decision to suspend the gunfighters’ ability to discharge firearms.

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