Cody, Wyo, fire takes in nearly 10,000 acres but brings out the best in neighbors
for Tri-State Livestock News
A fast-moving fire that swept through the Cody, Wyoming, area on a hot, dry, and windy day this week burned nearly 10,000 acres and forced evacuations of ranches and neighborhoods, but offers to help from the community were equally swift and all-encompassing. Infrared flight Thursday night showed that the fire remained within its perimeter Thursday, having peaked at 9,647 acres, according to Kristie Salzmann, public information officer.
Personnel from federal, state, and local agencies worked on the ground and from the air to contain the Whit Creek wild land fire that ravaged an area known as Sheep Mountain, the cause of which was still under investigation at press time.
As the fire raged, social media crackled with goodwill and prayers and offers for trucks, trailers and manpower, pasture and corrals. In the aftermath, donations were being made or pledged to a hub in Cody, from hot meals and cold drinks, to blankets and baby clothes.
Wyoming statute prohibits anyone from being forced to leave, but more than one ranch manager or resident moved livestock to safety as billowing smoke made its way down mountain range to pastures, structures, and homes.
The valley’s North and South forks are not far from Yellowstone National Park and are known for working ranches, guest ranches, vacation homes and recreational land ensconced in dramatic vistas.
As the fire reached 3,000 acres Wednesday and evacuations began in earnest, South Fork resident Michaele Dimock had made the difficult decision to load 15 domestic horses and leave behind a prized herd of wild horses in dry lots with the gates flung wide to pasture. Unsolicited help arrived from friends, neighbors, and the sheriff’s department. One deputy even helped her load her drafts.
Dimock, who lives on a horse property with her husband Chris and is scheduled to host a clinic this week, had nothing but good to say about the efforts of personnel in the area.
“It’s quite hectic,” Dimock said Thursday as she was starting to haul animals home and meet guests at the local airport, “but I’m so thankful for our wonderful firefighters who saved my neighbors’ houses and stopped the fire before it reached us, it was only one property away.”
Dimock said U.S. Forest Service and BLM officials as well as law enforcement were all indispensable.
Daughter Heather Rhodes, whose 5-year-old son and 94-year-old grandmother were evacuated from the property along with the family pets, said word got out the Dimocks were in need and the response was heartwarming. “Thankfully friends and neighbors knew that my parents had a ton of animals because they started showing up with horse trailers and with offers of places to stay.”
The mustangs left behind survived along with the Dimocks’ well-irrigated hay fields.
Others in the affected area may have lost hay stacks or pasture ground.
BLM officials could not be reached for comment on how leases of public grazing land may have been affected, but in that area, the field office manages high altitude allotments that are grazed in the summer. The office manages more than 200 allotments that range in size from less than an acre to 55,000 acres.
Most of the offers for help came from the equine community and focused on moving horses to safety in this part of Wyoming where many people relocate to enjoy pleasure horses and performance sports or ranch cattle and horses.
The Park County fairgrounds was named as a hub for temporary shelter for livestock and people both, but went unused as of late Thursday afternoon.
RVs were offered up as well as private residences and livestock facilities across the Big Horn Basin.
Temperatures have been in the 90s all week and the area was already filling with smoke from a nearby wildfire in Hamilton, Montana, when the Wyoming fire started.
The blaze reportedly drove out at least one old timer from a remote cabin who normally had no good reason to venture to town.
Ranches in the area that were evacuated included Big Hat Ranch, Golden Key Ranch, and Simek Ranch, once home to a world renowned angus operation, Canyon Creek Angus.