burnt grass

A grass fire smolders off of Montgomery Road on Thursday. The 15.9-acre wildfire was started when a bird landed on a power line and was electrocuted. It fell to the ground and sparked the fire.

A wet spring and summer led to lush growth on area grasslands, which in turn has led to worries about fire danger as all that vegetation has dried out in the hot temperatures Campbell County has experienced over the past two weeks.

For now, the fire danger in Campbell County remains at a moderate level, said J.R. Fox, division chief of operations for the Campbell County Fire Department.

“They’re definitely starting to turn,” he said. “It doesn’t take many consecutively hot days to turn the corner on that and be in the middle of fire season.”

All that delightfully green vegetation that’s now drying out creates fuel for a spark that comes along, whether that be from lightning, a spark from a passing train or other unusual causes.

Two wildfires in Campbell County on Thursday could incidate what’s ahead later this summer and fall:

  • A 15.9-acre grass fire north of the Montgomery Road, about 27 miles west of Gillette at 10:47 a.m. was started by a bird that landed on a powerline and was electrocuted, falling to the ground to start the fire, according to the Campbell County Fire Department.
  • A 13.5-acre grass fire at 4:33 p.m. 30 miles west of Gillette on Echeta Road was started by lightning.

Both were put out in short order by Campbell County firefighters.

No fires were started by the storm that passed through Campbell County late Thursday night and early Friday morning, which included enough drenching rain to have put out anything that might have started.

Fox said one of the problems this year is the amount of sweet clover.

“When it dries out, I think it definitely will provide a challenge for us because there’s so much of it and it’s so tall,” he said.

David King, Campbell County Emergency Management coordinator, put it another way: “Two grasshoppers scratching each other could start a fire,” he said earlier this week.

“We’ve never seen it quite like this and I’m scared to death if we get winds,” he said. “We’ve got a fuel load out there that’s getting pretty incredible.”

So much so that he almost longingly uses a four-letter S-word as he wishes for a helpful weather forecast for wildland fires: snow.

Last year, the county was lucky to avoid many wildland fires. Typically, the department responds to 140 to 150 wildfires a year on average. Last year, they responded to about 70 and the largest was about 300 acres, Fox said.

So far this year, it has recorded 20 to 30 small ones, he said.

“It could all change as we start this drying trend and we get into August and September,” he said. “If we continue to dry out, we’re going to be pretty busy.”

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