SHERIDAN — Chris Thomas recently retired from his position as silviculturist with the U.S. Forest Service in Sheridan. A future filled with endless days of fishing and sunshine awaited him, but something kept tugging. The busy life of a federal forester made the jolt into retirement a little too quick for Thomas, and now he finds himself back in action as Sheridan County’s fire warden.
Thomas lives for the preservation of sacred forest. During his first seasonal job with the USFS, he gained experience in wildland firefighting and has not stopped his involvement with fighting fires in the forest.
Thomas also helped found the Goose Valley Fire Department, which celebrated its 10-year anniversary this spring. Thomas’ involvement with GVFD helped him learn structure fire response to round out his fire experience.
The warden position he steps into will take him off the line and put him into administrative duties.
“The fire warden’s job is not to go out there and pound ground and squirt water,” Thomas said. “It’s to coordinate and administrate.”
Thomas said he lived an entire career of fighting fires and determining how to best grow and preserve trees in the forest and will benefit from that experience in his new role. Thomas also anticipates taking a different approach in his work, moving from federal to state agencies.
The job of Sheridan County fire warden opened after Bill Biastoch served in the position for more than a decade. County commissioners urged Biastoch in late May to set an official retirement date, as the commission wanted to proceed with the hiring process and Biastoch wanted to finish a few ongoing projects and help the new administrator ease into the position.
Fritz Bates also expressed interest in the lead fire warden position, as he has served under three former fire wardens: Pete Jensen, Ed Schunk and Biastoch. The commission voted Thomas into the head position during its May 15 meeting and kept Bates in as deputy.
“Chris and I get along really (well) together,” Bates said about Thomas receiving the position. “Both of us are going to bring separate things to the table; I think we will complement each other and get along fine.”
Bates said they plan to continue the fuel mitigation program in Story and move into the more grassy areas in eastern Sheridan County, of which more than 100,000 acres burned last fall near the border of Wyoming and Montana.
“The fire doesn’t care if it’s trees or grass,” Bates said.
Bates and Thomas have worked together both in professional and volunteer positions. Bates worked with Thomas while serving as a wildland firefighter for the U.S. Forest Service. Bates also worked with Thomas when Bates served as Clearmont fire chief and Thomas volunteered for Goose Valley.
“I think Chris has got some attributes that he will bring to the table that I don’t have as far as fuels and things like that,” Bates said. “I think he’s going to be an asset to the county.”