SHERIDAN — Fire and forestry managers across Wyoming said wildfire fuel breaks — created with inexpensive tree thinning projects more than six years ago — spared hundreds of homes from devastation last month.
Near the Wyoming-Colorado border June 10, a wildfire started in the Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest two miles northwest of the Mountain Home subdivision. Within 72 hours of igniting, the Badger Creek Fire had grown to more than 11,000 acres in size.
“Everything happened fast,” said Travis Pardue, assistant district forester for the Wyoming State Forestry Division. “Not only did the fire move quickly, it was pretty unexpected given the time of year, so we didn’t have time to prepare subdivisions, much less the manpower to protect them while we evacuated 400 residences. Really the only thing protecting those subdivisions was the fuel breaks.”
The 339 acres of fuel breaks Pardue said “saved the Mountain Home and Wold Tract subdivisions” were put in by the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service in 2011 and 2012 in and near the Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest. These thinning treatments cost just $1,000 an acre — a drop in the bucket compared to the $12 million the Badger Creek Fire cost to suppress — and were planned and implemented in concert with WSFD and Albany County.
“With the fuel breaks, firefighters had enough of a buffer to safely direct retardant drops from air tankers,” said Reed Oldenburg, fuels mitigation coordinator for WSFD. “The fire never did get established within or across the fuel treatments.”
Several of the engines used to fight the Badger Creek Fire came to rural Wyoming via the Federal Excess Personal Property and Firefighter Property programs. Much of the state’s other firefighting equipment and training is also provided by WSFD in cooperation with the Forest Service through the State Fire Assistance and Volunteer Fire Assistance programs.