Jackson Hole Daily, Mike Koshmrl and Mark Huffman- Gusting afternoon winds blew up the Berry Fire on Sunday, forcing evacuations and the second closure of Highway 89/191.
Winds gusted up to 40 mph in the northern end of Grand Teton National Park. Though firefighters knew they faced “critical fire weather with an unstable atmosphere,” according to a report Sunday morning, the wind did more than expected.
“The fire hasn’t been doing much except for today,” said Jake Brollier, fire information officer.
The highway was closed because of smoke from near the Lizard Creek Campground to Lewis Lake in Yellowstone National Park, Brollier said. Flagg Ranch and campers who had recently returned to the Grassy Lake area were evacuated.
“The last time I checked it was like a mile, mile and a half from Flagg Ranch and it was spotting,” Brollier said. “The main thing we want to do is have accountability for everybody out there.”
The big blowup came as a surprise, Brollier said.
“This has all happened just in the last hour,” he said at about 4 p.m.
Brollier didn’t know how long the road closure might remain in effect, but said it wouldn’t be lifted before today.
“It won’t be opening any time soon this evening,” he said.
The fire has been burning since July 25 after being started by lightning near the northwest end of Jackson Lake. But it has been calmer since the highway was reopened Aug. 30 after being closed a week in the wake of windy days that drove the blaze across the highway on Aug. 22.
The fire had grown less than 2,000 acres since Sept. 1, reaching about 14,700 acres by Sunday morning.
Firefighters assigned to the effort, once numbering close to 400, had been cut to 109 by Sunday, and three of five helicopters had been reassigned as the fire burned slower and away from inhabited areas. Only four fire engines remained assigned to the fire.
But by early Sunday evening things had changed enough that local firefighters were being asked to man the fire lines if they could.
Better weather for the firefighting effort was expected by today.
Grand Teton National Park spokeswoman Denise Germann said cooler temperatures and higher humidities were expected to ease the Red Flag Weather Alert that has been in effect. Germann also said that forecasters expected some rain or snow might be headed for the fire area.