THE BUZZ 3: Fire Season Endures

By on August 23, 2016

Wildfire in Grand Teton forces evacuations and highway closure to Yellowstone.

The Berry fire, which spans 6,319 acres, has been steadily making its way to the northern shores of Jackson Lake. On Monday the fire jumped the lake. (Photo: top right: Inciweb, bottom right: nps.gov)

The Berry fire, which spans 6,319 acres, has been steadily making its way to the northern shores of Jackson Lake. On Monday the fire jumped the lake. (Photo: top right: Inciweb, bottom right: nps.gov)

JACKSON HOLE, WY – The Berry fire is making life difficult for parkgoers as it ballooned in size early this week fueled by red flag warning days as a dry, cold front pushed through the valley Monday. The blaze roared through Elk Ridge and Harem Hill before jumping the northernmost section of Jackson Lake—where east and west banks are only a quarter-mile apart—and is now headed into the wilderness area of the Bridger-Teton National Forest with extreme behavior and tree torching witnessed on Steamboat Mountain and in the Sheffield Creek drainage.

Access to Yellowstone Park via the south gate is not possible as of press time. Highway 89/191/287 is closed between Leek’s Marina (south) and Flagg Ranch (north). An infrared reconnaissance flight Monday night revealed 6,319 acres burned or burning.

The fire is being managed for its resource benefits with ground personnel only providing structure protection at Flagg Ranch. The incident commander on the fire is Ronald Steffens with a Type 3 team. Public information officer Brian Lawatch said a Type 2 interagency team will assume command of the Berry fire on Wednesday.

Lawatch said fire advancement toward the northeast will be tolerated into the Buffalo Ranger District of the BTNF. The blaze may reach Huckleberry Mountain before snowfall and cooler temps begin in September. Containment is anticipated by October 1.

Alex Klein, vice president and general manager of Grand Teton Lodging Company, reported smooth evacuations at Flagg Ranch. All guests have been resituated in alternative lodging and employees were shifted to dorms at Jackson Lake Lodge and other RV parks. A few employees remain at Flagg at this time to tie up loose ends and provide assistance for firefighters.

“Clearly the safety of our guests and employees is our number one concern. We are very supportive of the decision to evacuate made by the Park Service,” Klein said. “We are letting all of our guests know there is still a great national park here to visit. We are offering assistance in any way we can including advice on directions to get into Yellowstone—by going around and through the West Yellowstone entrance.”

Klein couldn’t say whether the fire would cause any disruptions to the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City’s annual Economic Policy Symposium scheduled for this week. So far it has been business as usual at Jackson Lake Lodge where the conference will take place, he said. Grand Teton Lodge Company has been providing food and shelter for firefighters.

The wildfire began on July 25 after a lightning storm ignited a ridge between Owl and Berry creeks. It smoldered inconspicuously for weeks until high winds and dry fuel conditions helped push the flames over Elk Ridge and into Harem Hill where it found thick, heavy timber.

Motorists will notice heavy smoke in the area and the presence of fire personnel. Jackson visitors wishing to drive into Yellowstone are advised to use the West Yellowstone entrance via Idaho. The normal 100-mile trip to Old Faithful Inn, for instance, from downtown Jackson is now 159 miles, adding an hour to the trip.

Park officials say the Berry fire is being managed to accomplish objectives outlined in the Grand Teton Fire Management Plan, which allows naturally ignited fires to burn under specific management guidelines. Wildfires, when allowed to perform their natural role, improve the overall landscape health by reducing fuel loading, releasing nutrients back into the soil and creating new habitat for plants and animals.

The Berry Fire is one of 16 blazes actively burning in Wyoming—four of those are in Yellowstone National Park, including the largest—the 27,101-acre Maple fire burning near the West Yellowstone entrance. PJH

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