PINEDALE – The Fontenelle Fire that began burning Sunday, June 24 on the Bridger-Teton National Forest (BTNF) roughly 33 miles northwest of LaBarge has, as of Thursday, grown to a measured 57,324 acres and is 17 miles west of Big Piney. Also as of Thursday, there were 842 personnel on scene fighting the fire, and officials say they are in full suppression mode.
“The Forest Service has deemed this fire of national significance,” stated BTNF Supervisor Frank Guzman.
The Fontenelle Fire was assigned a National Incident Management Organization (NIMO) team, which is often referred to as a Type 1 incident management team. There are only four NIMO teams in the entire nation, and the team assigned to the Fontenelle Fire is the Phoenix Ariz. NIMO team, a seven-member command of general staff.
After several days of the fire being zero percent contained, the fire fact sheet released Wednesday morning included hopeful information that the fire is now 15 percent
The substantial jump in personnel fighting the fire from Saturday to Wednesday helped minimize the growth. On Saturday morning, there were 265 firefighters on scene; by that evening, there were 427, and on Thursday morning the count then reached 842. Some of those had traveled from Alaska after officials ordered even more personnel Wednesday morning.
“Our intention is to put this fire out,” explained Guzman. “However, mother nature may have different thoughts when it progresses north into more rugged country.”
According to the Fontenelle fact sheet, crews are making progress with a fire line around the perimeter of the blaze. However, the fire is expected to progress to the north, where firefighters will be checking for hotspots creating a fire line whenever it is safe to do so.
The blaze is now not only burning on the BTNF, but also Bureau of Land Management (BLM) high desert district and state/private lands west of Big Piney. Heavy, dead timber is still the primary fuel source, with occasional areas of grass and sage at lower elevations.
“We will all be free of smoke at some point before Oct.; cross your fingers for that,” Shane DeForest, the BLM Pinedale Field Office manager, said. “We can expect the fire to be hanging with us for a while.”
Public meetings were held on Monday to update residents in both Big Piney and Pinedale. There, DeForest also explained that one of the top priorities for this incident is to keep the public informed about all updates and changes that take place throughout the duration, however long it may last.
At the meetings, there were several speakers who touched on different points and aspects of the fire, from the addition of the NIMO team to details on how each section is progressing.
Fires that start in the Wyoming Range on the BTNF, where the Fontenelle Fire is currently burning, rarely move to the west, according officials at the meetings. Therefore, the main focus is on the northeastern section.
There have not been any explosions and no wells have been lost in the area; the only thing that has been lost to the blaze is a trashcan. The Middle Piney summer homes were successfully defended with only minor smoke damage.
The public should be aware of the high fire danger when recreating in the BTNF. It is important that all campfires are extinguished completely; the slightest breeze can have a devastating effect if it ignites lingering embers. There is a ban on the use of fireworks in the BTNF and in all of Sublette County.
When parking a vehicle in or around tall grass, it is important to be cautious of the fire hazard, and all individuals who smoke must be cautious of cigarette butts. It is best if an ashtray or trashcan is used for disposal.
A press release from the Bureau of Land Management also reminds people that all off-highway vehicles must be equipped with Society of Automotive Engineers approved spark arresters.