Wildfires dominate outdoors news in the Western U.S (with updates)

Montana becomes the state with biggest and largest number of wildlfires-
The Fontenelle Fire smokes up Western Wyoming recreation country-
Utah suffers from an amazing number of fires started by target shooting-

Wildfires are now on the decline in New Mexico and Arizona with one new exception, Horse Canyon Fire.  However, they are on the rise in Wyoming and exploding in Montana. The Ash Creek Fire (appropriated named) is the largest at 170,000 acres.  The fire has the potential for a lot more growth. It is currently most active in the Cook Mountain Hiking and Riding area. Update: July 3 is a day of big worry.  Temperatures will rise to as high as 106 degrees with winds up to 35 mph as a front comes through.  The Dahl Fire in the Bull Mountains has taken the most structures. It is now mostly contained. Both of these are southeastern Montana fires.  Fire fighting resources of the Dahl Fire are going to Montana’s newest big fire, the 6000 acre Horse Creek fire east of Billings.

The Fontenelle Fire in SW Wyoming on the east slope of the Wyoming Range is 48,000 acres with a lot of growth potential. It is burning in grass and brushland and heavy timber that is about maximum for combustibility — very dry green conifers, recently dead (red) very explosive conifers, and older dead timber.  Much of it is down, increasing its ability to support a large, lasting fire. The Fontenelle Fire is also burning out into heavy gas well country.  There are many sour gas wells near the fire’s perimeter. “Sour” mean poison gas — hydrogen sulfide gas. Of this Inciweb reports “Large fire growth continues to place substantial strain on helium plant construction (delaying contributions to the nation’s helium supply and employment of 300+ construction workers) and oil/gas production.” “. . . gas, oil and helium production shut down causing significant economic impact.”  This is one of smokiest fires. Most days it has blown northeast across the Green River Basin and Wind River Mountains.  Some days, however, it flows more northward into Jackson Hole and the Gros Ventre Moutains just to the east of Jackson Hole.

Update: July 2 was a big day for the Fontenelle Fire. Photo. So was July 3. 

Wyoming’s largest fire is not the Fontenelle, however. It is the 75,000 acre Arapaho Fire which has had truly extreme fire behavior burning in “Heavy mixed conifer, bug killed timber, heavy dead and down material and heavy blown down storm damaged timber.” This is in south central Wyoming in the Laramie Mountains. This fire could also grow a lot more.

Utah has had many wildfires, but perhaps the most interesting thing is that 21 or 22 of them have been started by target shooting where there are rocks in dry grass.  When the total reached 19 fires, many people, including politicians began to take serious note of this way wildfires, especially ones that threatened houses were being started.  A number of newspaper articles were generated.  Utah has some of the most militant right to bear arms advocates, and state laws have left officials unable to close areas to shooting.  They are begging folks to shoot responsibly.  Target shooters have caused 19 wildfires in Utah this year. Despite growing problem, state law prevents any regulation of firearms. Salt Lake Tribune. By Jack Wang.  Yesterday the 22nd target shooting incident fire was started in Millville Canyon above Cache Valley in the Bear River Mountains.

Utah’s largest fire is Clay Springs at 100,000 acres burning in the Canyon mountains east of Delta. This huge fire is likely to impact Utah mule deer population which has been struggling. Many parts of the fire have burned very hot. This means recovery will not be quick. This fire was human caused, as are almost all the Utah fires. Update: It grew another 3000 acres on July 2. Potential for further expansion is currently “extreme.”  Update July 3: this fire’s perimeter now covers 90% of the Canyon Mountains.  In other words it has, or will burn the entire rugged mountain range. Of course, there will be unburned islands.

July 4. One of the few Utah fires to be started by lightning is the Seeley Fire. Ignition was June 26, and it has been growing steadily burning on scenic, but recently beetle killed side and top of the northern end of the Wasatch Plateau.  This fire is burning in one of the most heavily used (for recreation) parts of the plateau.  So far this year north central Utah has seen the most and the biggest wildfires in the state.






  1. TC Avatar

    Our air quality is downright hazardous. People with cardiovascular disease or respiratory disease are being encouraged to leave town. And having just been outside, they should. God love us it’s July 3 and we have fires on the north, south, and west of us. George Wuerthner’s scientific arguments for need for fire in forest and rangeland ecology (arguments that are solid on a cerebral level, but awful tough to live with in person), this year is shaping up to be a life-changer if you enjoy spending time in the mountains in SE or central Wyoming. I cannot imagine how species like moose, blue grouse, marten, lynx, mule deer, etc. are going to come through this without significant impacts to some populations in our neck of the woods. I’m sure the generalists (white-tailed deer and elk) are dancing. Be thankful if you’re where the fires are not (yet). July and August may be interesting times. I don’t ever (ever) remember it being this dry, hot, and windy, and all that beetle kill is just beckoning. In response to a post I read somewhere else earlier – it seems to burn (torch and crown run) just fine.

  2. Ralph Maughan Avatar
    Ralph Maughan


    So you are in central Wyoming eating all this smoke?

  3. TC Avatar

    Ralph – Laramie. Squirrel Creek fire to the southwest, High Park fire still smoldering to the south, and large Arapaho fire to the north. No matter which way the wind blows it brings smoke, and the occasional rain of ash and soot (now mostly from the Squirrel Creek fire).

    1. Immer Treue Avatar
      Immer Treue

      Cigarettes, ever the pox! Bone dry up here in Superior National Forest and cigarette butts still pop up on the trails. The world is their

  4. Mike Avatar

    One of my favorite places in Montana is cursed with a shooting range. I hope those goofs aren’t still shooting.

  5. Cobra Avatar

    My youngest son was sent with a 20 man crew to the ash fire last sunday, finally heard from him tonight because cell service is bad in that area. They’re working 16 hour days trying to get a handle on that fire, he was pretty tired so didn’t talk to much. Wish we could send the rain we’re getting in North Idaho to all those on fire. Stay safe to all fighting fires in all states.

  6. WM Avatar

    First let me say I am not a fan of fireworks, especially those set off by individuals anywhere. Fires get started, people are injured and pets/wildlife get scared and some even die (had a friend whose Irish setter became so excited he twisted his stomach and intestines which caused it to die an agonizing death because of fireworks). There lots of other better uses for discretionary income than purchasing fireworks which last only a few seconds, at most.

    Interesting tension in Indian Country about fireworks. On many reservations throughout the West, businesses run by tribal members sell devices which are NOT LEGAL to sell or use off the reservation – things that go boom which are really large, and/or are launched into the air and land who knows where potentially causing fires. They sell lots to non-tribal or non-Indian customers, in fact that comprises most of their business. Then, there is the part that it is often NOT LEGAL for non-Indians to shoot off fireworks ON the reservation. So, non-Indians buy illegal fireworks, then illegally shoot them off wherever they do it, causing in many cases great risk of fire. Another area of lack of cooperation between sovereign Indian nations and states – fire prevention.

    Part of the issue on the Yakama Reservation, and in the rest of Yakima County (note correct spellings as used for each location):


    And, a side note, enforcement, if there is any, will become even goofier when Tribal police gain more authority over non-Indians on the reservation, under new state laws just passed. Then there is the part about tribal members shooting off stuff that is legal for them to buy and shoot off on the reservation. They don’t have the resources to do the job, either in fire fighting,law enforcement or in judicial proceedings in court. County sheriffs and state patrol and the feds are glad for the lightened work load, but what can be expected in the future? Fire responses on reservation are often fought by state or federal resources, whether there is reimbursement is questionable.

    And as a pre-emptive comment, let me say this is not a racist rant, it is a statement of fact involving complex issues in shared jurisdiction between sovereign nations.


Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University. He was a Western Watersheds Project Board Member off and on for many years, and was also its President for several years. For a long time he produced Ralph Maughan’s Wolf Report. He was a founder of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. He and Jackie Johnson Maughan wrote three editions of “Hiking Idaho.” He also wrote “Beyond the Tetons” and “Backpacking Wyoming’s Teton and Washakie Wilderness.” He created and is the administrator of The Wildlife News.

Subscribe to get new posts right in your Inbox