Bighorn Canyon fire put down quickly

David Peck

A lightning caused fire in the Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area Saturday afternoon was contained and extinguished in short order thanks to a quick response from the Lovell Volunteer Fire Dept.

Firemen were dispatched at 2:07 p.m. Saturday to a spot north of the Ewing-Snell Ranch where lightning had reportedly ignited a blaze. Upon arrival, nine firemen, joined by sheriff’s deputy Jeff Angell, assessed the situation and the best route to take to get to the fire burning north of the historic ranch and west of the park road.

Also responding were Bighorn Canyon Engine Boss Ryan Felkins and National Park Service rangers. A U.S. Forest Service engine also responded to the site later, Felkins said.

Lovell Fire Chief Mike Jameson and Felkins said the fire burned about a quarter acre of grass and juniper but did not spread further thanks for firefighters on the ground. Four Lovell firemen hiked to the site initially and were joined by two more, Jameson said, the firemen having donned wild land coveralls and a hard hat and carrying water packs and a Pulaski axe and digging tool.

They were joined by a four-man federal helicopter fire crew dispatched from Billings, who added chainsaws and manpower to the containment effort.

“They hit hot spots with water and built a fire line around the existing fire to keep it from spreading,” Jameson said of  his crew’s efforts. “It was the same with the federal guys, and they helped mop up.”

Firemen cleared the scene at 5:06 p.m.

“Our main intent was to get to it quickly,” Jameson said. “Hopefully, you can knock it down before it takes off.”

Felkins, too, appreciated the quick response, noting, “As dry as things were, you never know.”

Jameson and assistant chief Bob Mangus said the LVFD had a mostly quiet Fourth of July celebration in the area. Firemen responded to one fire, a fire in a dumpster at the Cowley Rodeo Grounds reported at 10:58 p.m. They said someone threw away a spent firework, and the still hot item caught trash on fire.

They said holidays are always worrisome because firemen are away with their families, noting that firemen not out of town are urged to respond since the fire crew is shorthanded.

Jameson and Mangus urged people to be cautious in the weeks ahead as a hot and dry summer continues. Mangus said he spoke this week with county fire warden Brent Godfrey, who said that, though the Forest Service and BLM have issued stage one fire restrictions, there are no county fire restrictions at this time and will not be unless local fire departments get overwhelmed.