The Gilead Fire, which started in August and burned nearly 8,200 acres and cost nearly $3.5 million to fight, was the area's largest and most visible fire to both Sheridan and Buffalo.
In community meetings, some attending had voiced frustration on what ws perceived as a “lack of effort,” especially early on, from the Forest Service and other agencies in fighting the fire. The perception to some was much more could have been done sooner to prevent the fire from growing as large as it did.
Resource Staff Officer Bernie Bernong; Public Affairs Specialist Susie Douglas; and District Ranger Mark Booth; all with the Bighorn National Forest, said that nothing could be further from the truth.
All that could have been done was done, and that asset protection and personal safety of the public and firefighters were the main concerns with fighting the fire.
The Forest Service, like every other agency, has limited resources available to them, and must prioritize where their resources can be distributed in any given year. They use what they call WUIs, or Wildland/Urban Interfaces, to help determine where those resources will be concentrated.
Bernong said the policy over the last 10 to 15 years on the BHNF has been to focus fuels treatment/removal and timber sales/tree thinning near these WUI areas.
He explains how those WUI areas were identified.
Bernong said the BHNF allows logging on roughly 1,000 acres of forest every year and pays for another 100 acres of fuels treatments in addition to the logging, which helps with wildfire fuels mitigation.
Between the WUIs and their timber-harvest objectives, it may add up to 100,000 acres treated out of the 650,000 acres contained in the entire forest.
The BHNF doesn't have the budget to manage all 650,000 acres, and they must designate a point-protection policy based on the WUI areas and the 100,000 acres of the timber-harvest areas.
Tomorrow we will look at the landscape and how it contributed to the difficulties associated with the fire.