Jackson Hole Daily, Mike Koshmrl- An out-of-control wildfire came right up to the edge of structures at Flagg Ranch on Sunday and spotted within the developed area, but firefighters were able to save all buildings in its path.
By midday Monday it was clear that the Berry Fire had died down in cool, wet weather and would not repeat the inexorable wind-driven run it made in the closing hours of the weekend. The uncontained perimeter of the blaze now hugs the east and west sides of evacuated Flagg Ranch and is within a mile of the South Gate of Yellowstone National Park.
“It made a pretty big run,” said Bridger-Teton National Forest fire management officer Steve Markason, who is commanding the fight against the Berry Fire. “It was pretty impressive — a 6-mile, 6,000-acre run. It stretched the resources pretty hard.”
Keeping with the theme, all the growth came in about six hours.
Sustained 30- to 40-mph winds that began midafternoon blew its leading edge past containment lines on both sides of the highway to Yellowstone. Right at sunset the front wall of flames hit Flagg Ranch.
“We could not fly any air tankers, any helicopters,” Markason said, “because it was too windy.”
“Basically, it hit hard at Flagg,” he said. “Really, there was fire all around. It burned throughout the whole Flagg Ranch, all over. It burned everything.”
Except for the actual structures, which are all still standing.
Prompted by a big Berry Fire run across Jackson Lake and the highway on Aug. 22, firefighters had thinned and limbed trees on the outskirts of Headwaters Lodge and the surrounding outbuildings, which have metal “firewise” roofs. In the hours leading up to its arrival Sunday, they set out sprinklers and made other last-minute preparations.
All the precautionary work, Markason said, was “worth its weight in gold.”
“It really, really paid off,” he said.
Firefighting resources that had been released due to weeks of mild activity have been ordered back up. Some 240 personnel, six helicopters and a fixed-wing aircraft are now assigned to the Berry Fire, which grew by a third to 33 square miles Sunday. Discovered July 25, the fire was started by lightning on the west shore of Jackson Lake and was allowed to burn because of its remoteness and the goals of wildfire management plans.
On Monday wildfire was burning with much less vigor, but on both sides of the highway along a 3-mile stretch that includes Flagg Ranch. The road remains closed, with no anticipated opening date, Markason said.
“Right now, it’s not in the cards,” he said Monday. “Definitely not today or tomorrow.”
For an eight-day stretch in August the Berry Fire shut down the most direct route from Grand Teton to Yellowstone.
The firefight is now focused on containment along the highway, the north flank and any other fronts that threaten structures.
“We just got to really stop the forward progression of this,” Markason said. “Yesterday was a fire-friendly day, and today and tomorrow are going to be firefighter-friendly days.”
Winds dying down, light precipitation falling and a 20-degree drop in temperature made the difference.
Yellowstone National Park officials also reported “very active” growth on its four large wildfires.
Wildfire fuels indexes tracked by Teton Interagency Fire suggest that it’s unusually dry for mid-September in Jackson Hole. The Berry Fire torched all aspects of the landscape during the big run, including normally moist and fireproof riparian areas, Markason said.
“All fuels are available at this time,” Markason said, “including grass, shrubs, sage, willow and timber.”