GUERNSEY – Driving down Highway 26 on the south side of the road people are noticing an unusually large tract of charred landscape and what smells like fresh corkboard.
At approximately 4:30 last Thursday afternoon smoke was seen from the roadway and a passerby called 911. First to the scene within minutes was the rural Guernsey fire department led by fire chief Dave Warner.
“When I first got there I thought that I could put it out by myself,” Warner said. “And then all of a sudden the wind kicked up and within five seconds the fire was uncontrollable. We can’t say right now the cause as it is under investigation, but it will most likely not be attributed to natural causes.”
It’s been labled the “Warm Springs Fire” and 866 acres were burned. According to Guernsey City Fire Chief Jeff Thomas, other fire departments responded including Guernsey City fire department, Camp Guernsey, Glendo, Antelope Gap, Hartville, Ft. Laramie, Palmer Canyon, Wheatland, Laramie Peak, Torrington, Yoder, Veteran, Goshen Hole along with a hand crew and air assets.
Law enforcement on the scene included the Platte County Sheriff’s Office, Guernsey Police Department and the the Wyoming Highway Patrol.
As the winds continued to come into play with up to 60 mph gusts, the firefighters were working as if they were chasing a runaway train. According to Warner, it took 72 hours to put the fire out and on Sunday as warm weather began to once again move in, Warner has still bee monitoring the site and watching for flareups.
“The rain that came in really helped us out and the fact that it was a continuous rain caused a deeper soaking into the ground and surrounding foliage that had been dried but had not caught fire,” the chief said.
There were some local structures near the burn site, but firefighters worked feverishly to foam structures and divert the fire away from anything of value. At times the smoke was so thick that crews had a hard time watching the path because the smoke was impenetrable. As smoke began to drift across the highway, traffic was deterred so that firefighters could effectively fight the fires. It was rerouted for the safety of the onlookers as well as the firefighters. The crews didn’t lose any structures in the fire as they contained it to open ground. There also were no people hurt in the firefight although there were a lot of tired firefighters as they fought wind which both drove the fire, blew dust and debris into the firefighting equipment and was gusting enough to hinder firefighting efforts.
Platte County had experienced two weeks of extremely hot and dry weather and Guernsey hovered around 100 degrees for daily highs from Sept. 1 through Sept. 8 without any precipitation. Firefighters said that the grasses were like tinderboxes.