Effort to battle Crazy Mountain blaze now headquartered in Livingston

By 
Jason Bacaj – Enterprise Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 25, 2021
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The American Fork Fire, outlined at upper right, is burning in the Crazy Mountains northeast of Wilsall. As of Wednesday morning, the more than 21,800-acre blaze was 58% contained.

 

Wednesday morning was quiet at the Park County Fairgrounds, where the Albuquerque Zone Type 3 Incident Management Team had set up a command post to manage the firefighters working to contain the American Fork Fire.

The American Fork Fire has been burning in the northern Crazy Mountains since mid-July, torching more than 21,800 acres. For much of that time, the fire was managed as part of the Divide Complex, which included two other wildfires in the area: the Balsinger and Woods Creek fires.

Last week’s brief reprieve from unseasonably hot, dry weather and the efforts of firefighters over the past month has helped bring the American Fork Fire closer to containment. As of Wednesday morning, the blaze was 58% contained with the fire mostly smoldering in the interior rather than spreading out at the edges, according to a release from the U.S. Forest Service.

“That little weather event let us get people in here (the fire’s western edge) and that helped us out a lot,” said Forrest Ford, public information officer trainee with the Custer Gallatin National Forest.

In part due to these gains, the American Fork Fire became less complex to manage. And the Forest Service split management of the Crazy Mountain fire off from the larger complex, resulting in a separate Incident Command Post being established in Livingston this past Sunday.

The Balsinger and Woods Creek fires are managed by the Fire Department City of New York Type 2 Incident Management Team, Ford said.

 

‘Steep, nasty country’

At the Livingston command post, folding tables laden with computers and documents were arranged around the perimeter of the dining room and kitchen of the fairground’s exhibit building. Conversations around the floor were quiet. The main noise was the steady hum from two box fans that rested flat atop purpose-built wooden cubes with slots for air filters on each of the four sides, ready to treat unhealthy air.

Ford pulled out a topographical map of the fire and pointed out the fire boundaries. Boundaries and containment are determined in part by a pilot flying over the area with infrared equipment that can illustrate heat along the fire perimeter.

A containment line has the eastern flank of the fire hemmed in, away from ranch land in Sweet Grass County, Ford explained. The western edge — which threatened a Meagher County community and structures along Shields River Road, forcing evacuations — had containment line solidified through the recent wet weather. Only a small section on the fire’s southern end remains uncontained, along with a large stretch that covers much of the wildfire’s northern perimeter.

Wednesday’s action plan focused on that northern perimeter, where Ford said the fire is burning in “steep, nasty country.” People are on the ground there trying to work out a plan of attack and how best to leverage the 206 people working the American Fork Fire to reach full containment.

 

Multi-million dollar effort

As containment of the American Fork Fire steadily increases, the size of the organization battling the blaze will shrink, according to the Forest Service release. 

The National Interagency Coordination Center issues a daily Incident Management Situation Report on all the wildfires burning across the country, which includes the dollar cost of the firefighting effort and estimated date of containment. The Wednesday morning report stated that the American Fork Fire has cost about $6.2 million and is expected to be contained by mid-October.

Still, Ford was hesitant to toss out a potential date for full containment.

“Stuff out there right now is the equivalent of kiln-dried lumber,” Ford said. “It would take days of slow rain to bring those moistures up.”

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