CASPER, Wyo — Casper-Fire and EMS and Natrona County Fire District (NCFD) officials are standing by this Fourth of July in the midst of a partial fire ban, Red Flag warnings, low relative humidity, frequent strong winds, dry fuels, and the possibility of dry lightning, all making it “prime time” for wildfires, said NCFD firefighter Leighton Burgen, .
Fireworks are illegal in Natrona County, and permits are only issued to professional operators. Cigarettes tossed into brush are another common source of fires that start easily and grow quickly.
Burgen said there were lesser-known ignition sources that people don’t often consider. He said stray sparks from welding torches and arcing power lines have caused fires, and that tire chains dragging on the highway have been known to throw sparks into the brush.
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Burgen said there is a lot of fuel out there because last year was a wet year that contributed to a lot of growth.
Burgen is working at NCFD Station #13 in Evansville. Station #7 is in Mills. Combined, 18 firefighters work in 3 platoons 2 days on, and 4 days off. NCFD Station #13 operates in Mills.
NCFD operates 4 Class 6 all-terrain brush trucks that are equipped face wildfires on the scrubland. They carry 300-400 gallons of water. Larger structure trucks can carry over 1,000-gallons of water and are on hand to refill the brush truck tanks on the scene.
The Casper BLM and Wyoming State Forestry Service base two SEAT (Single Engine Air Tanker) planes out of centrally-located Natrona County International Airport to help ground resources initiate a quicker response to wildland fires. The SEAT was called to service on Thursday for a fire that burned over 400 acres on Thursday east of Powder River along the south side of US 20/26 between Casper and Shoshoni.
Mills Fire Department and Bar Nunn Fire Department also responded to the Powder River fire.
Casper Fire-EMS also operates 3 Class 6 brush trucks and 5 Class A structural pumper trucks housed across Casper city fire stations.
“Mutual aid in Natrona County is phenomenal,” Burgen said.
“We’re all singing off the same sheet of music,” said Pat McJunkin of Casper Fire-EMS, describing the “modular system” with which different agencies designate command when they respond to a single incident. They all use National Incident Command System protocols developed in California.
Natrona County fire crews are sometimes called during 2-week committment periods to wildfires on federal land across the country. In recent years and have been on scene in Florida, Oregon, Alaska and Arizona.
NCFD covers 5,376 square miles in Natrona County, everywhere that isn’t a municipality with its own fire service. They also cover 80 square miles of North Platte River and are equipped with inflatable rafts and rope rescue equipment.
Recent estimates put 70% of NCFD calls as medically-related, and 30% are combined fire or rescue response. All county and city firefighters are certified EMTs and are often first on the scene at most calls.
Calm winds 3-6 mph on Saturday helped ease Red Flag conditions, though storms and gusts are forecast after 4:00 pm.