Fires ignite east of Lovell

The fire season in north Big Horn County is heating up thanks to dry, hot weather, wind and thunderstorms, which have sparked fires on the Bighorn National Forest and Bureau of Land Management land east of Lovell in recent days.

Medicine Wheel/Paintrock District Ranger Dave Hogen said a fire in the Tillett’s Hole area just north of the Medicine Wheel was detected Thursday afternoon, likely sparked by Wednesday’s lightning storm.

A firefighting Huey takes off from Phyllis Bronkema’s field east of Lovell Tuesday morning after refueling as members of the Bronkema/Walker family and fire crew members look on.

“We were able to put people on it Thursday afternoon and evening,” Hogen said. “It’s in rough, steep, timbered terrain, and it was a 1 to 1½-hour hike into the area with a lot of saw work.”

Hogen said the fire was initially working its way up into the crowns of trees, then spotting 200 to 300 yards ahead, sending “50 cent piece embers skyward, making it a “messy burn.”

“They’ve been trying to find all of them (hot spots) and put them out, which is challenging in thick, downed timber,” Hogen said. “Until yesterday (Monday), there was still a risk of it turning into something big, but by Monday afternoon it was contained.”

Hogen said the fire crew was performing gridding, systematically searching for embers and hot spots. In the end, the fire burned just two acres.

Two 20-man crews fought the fire from the Wyoming Hot Shots and a crew from the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest of Northeast Oregon. Local ranger district personnel also fought the blaze.

“We responded quickly and had the right people available to respond,” Hogen said, noting that the Oregon crew was working in the Ten Sleep area when the call came.

Trout Creek Fire

A fire on BLM land just to the east of Big Horn Canyon near the Montana-Wyoming border was ignited by lightning on Monday night, BLM Public Affairs Specialist Sarah Beckwith said Tuesday.

The Trout Creek Fire was burning grass and sagebrush and also getting into juniper, Beckwith said, and by Tuesday night had spread to an estimated 600 acres.

After the fire was spotted Monday evening, BLM and Forest Service personnel responded to the site of the fire some 20 miles northeast of Lovell and less than a mile south of the Montana state line with three helicopters, two heavy air tankers, the Worland Fuels Crew (22 firefighters) and one BLM engine from Cody, Beckwith said.

Resources Tuesday included two helicopters, the BLM Worland Fuels Crew and the BLM Cody engine.

There are no structures immediately threatened, Beckwith said.

Helicopter landing

After fighting the Trout Creek Fire, one helicopter had to make an emergency landing about a mile east of Lovell Monday night due to high winds and lightning that came with a severe thunderstorm moving through the area.

The Helicopter Express Huey landed in a field owned by Phyllis Bronkema around 8:30 Monday night after dropping water and flying firefighting crew members to the fire. It was attempting to fly to the North Big Horn Airport north of Cowley when the flight crew made the precautionary landing near U.S. Highway 14A and the lane to Bronkema’s home.

After being fueled, the helicopter lifted off around 8:30 Tuesday morning.

By David Peck