Madeline Downes, above, with the BLM’s Snake River Hotshots crew in Pocatello, Idaho, is one of 1,456 firefighters working on three major blazes in Wyoming. WyoFile visited the Cliff Creek Fire headquarters camp near Bondurant to photograph some of those fighting the flames across the Equality State. Identities of the firefighters are contained in the paragraphs below each portrait.
Abel Gallegos has been a crew boss for 25 years. He fights fires with Snake River Valley Firefighters, SRV 10 from Vale, Oregon. His wife and sons serve on his crew.
As of Monday morning, three wildfires in Wyoming had burned 22,850 acres in 10 days. The Cliff Creek Fire is burning in the Bridger-Teton National Forest, the Lava Mountain on the Shoshone National Forest and the Hatchery Fire on BLM land and in the Bighorn National Forest. Aaron Conti works with the Snake River Hotshots from Pocatello.
Snake River Valley Firefighters of Vale, Oregon, is a Bureau of Land Management organization that historically has trained crews that are 85 percent Hispanic. Training is done in English and Spanish and includes an international partnership with Mexico. Antonio Gallegos is a member of the SRV10 crew.
The fires have caused intermittent closures of two major highways and threatened a third, although travel has been reestablished. Travelers intending to use U.S. 191 through the Hoback Canyon, and U.S. 16 east of Ten Sleep and U.S. 26 over Togwotee Pass should check with Wyoming Department of Transportation regarding the routes’ status. Andrew Vogel fights fires with the Pocatello crew.
At least 19 helicopters have been deployed to the three fires and aerial support has included retardant drops by air tankers as well. Air operations add significantly to the cost of fighting the blazes. Nicacio Cruz works with the Vale, Oregon crew.
The U.S. Fire Administration reports 45 firefighter fatalities in the U.S. in 2016. Wildland firefighters list safety first as they prioritize their goals at the beginning of each operation. David Neydlin an Idaho firefighter, keeps his mustache stylish despite the heat.
Only one structure — a pole barn — has been lost in the three major blazes, but each fire has caused evacuations. Some residents in Bondurant and Granite Creek were moved out because of the Cliff Creek Fire, the Lava Mountain Fire near Togwotee Pass forced the evacuation of several ranches, and the Hatchery Fire near Ten Sleep also required people to move out quickly. Jose Mendoza of Caldwell, Idaho, is on the Oregon squad.
Firefighting can be demanding work and shifts can last 16 hours in remote, rugged terrain. The Snake River Hotshots “firmly believe physical conditioning is directly related to safety on the fire line,” the crew says on its webpage, “thus the physical training regimen is demanding.” James Williams is one of the team members.
Lightning started the Cliff Creek and Lava Mountain fires when conditions in the area were rated as “high.” That warning has since been raised to “very high.” Cause of the Hatchery Fire, which started on private land, is under investigation. Maria E. Gallegos works on the Oregon crew with her husband and sons.
Potential winds and hot, dry conditions caused weather forecasters to issue a red-flag warning for central Wyoming on Monday and a hazardous weather outlook for much of the rest of the state. The remainder of the week may see some thunderstorms, the National Weather Service says. Maxwell Higgins fights fires with the Snake River Hotshots.
Across the U.S., 26 large fires have burned 232,000 acres in 12 states, the National Interagency Fire Center reported Monday as it raised the nationwide fire preparedness level to three (on a scale that goes up to five.) The agency reports 31,790 fires this year burning 3 million acres. Selso Gallegos is a member of Oregon’s Snake River Valley Firefighters who lives in Parma, Idaho.
Firefighters urge people in fire-prone areas to have an evacuation and rendezvous plan, in addition to creating defensible space around their homes. The six “P’s” to be kept ready in case an evacuation is required are; 1) People and pets, 2) Papers, phone numbers and important documents, 3) Prescriptions, vitamins and eyeglasses, 4) Pictures and irreplaceable memorabilia, 5) Personal computers (information on hard drives and disks) and 6) Plastic (credit cards) and cash. Sam Magnifico is a Pocatello, Idaho firefighter.
Wildfires can be tracked at the Inciweb site and can be organized and viewed by state. Information on each fire includes maps, photographs, news releases and other announcements regarding the incidents’ progress and warnings. Mavino Gallegos fights fires with the Oregon crew.