CHEYENNE, Wyo. — Wyoming recorded an above-average number of wildfires in 2017 but the state escaped the large conflagrations that plagued other western states, according to state officials.
“Compared to everybody around us, we had a fairly moderate season as far as large fires,” state forester Bill Crapser said. “We didn’t get that many large fires.”
Wyoming recorded about 760 wildfires on federal, state, county and private lands last year, he said. Those fires burned at least 331 square miles (857 square kilometers) of forest and prairie across the state.
In 2016, there were about 700 wildfires in Wyoming. The state averages about 600 a year.
Wyoming has 18,437 square miles (47,752 square kilometers) of forested land, most of it on federal land, including Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks.
Crapser said the number of the wildfires last year was a “fairly active” season for Wyoming.
“But we had enough moisture, we had good initial attack and good breaks of luck that we really didn’t have near as many large fires as most surrounding states did,” he said.
The good breaks included no big wind events to drive the fires and many of the storms that sparked fires with lightning were accompanied by rain to help keep the blazes from growing quickly, Crapser said.
“We were fortunate on a lot of the weather and the conditions,” he said.
There wasn’t much fire activity in Yellowstone, where only eight fires resulted in less than one acre being burned, according to park spokeswoman Vicki Regula.
She noted that in 2016, 22 fires burned some 97 square miles (251 square kilometers) in Yellowstone.
The 331 square miles burned statewide in 2017 is higher than the average of around 273 square miles (707 square kilometers), Crapser said.
“But then you have to compare it to the big years like 2012 — we had almost a million acres that burned that year,” he said.
Crapser said that from his own observations over nearly 15 years as state forester, Wyoming seems to experience a bad fire season about every six years.
This year is the sixth year after the last big fire season, he noted.