Lightning is suspected cause of Britania Mountain Fire | TSLN.com

Lightning is suspected cause of Britania Mountain Fire

Rachel Gabel and Carrie Stadheim

When Sumner Shockley left the neighborhood picnic to check on the fire and didn't return, his wife and neighbors didn't know what to expect.

His wife, Shirley, said she called to check on him and he said he was moving their cattle closer to home because the Britania Mountain Fire, which had been burning since the day before, was getting too close for comfort.

"He said, 'I'm here at the west pasture and it's coming fast,' " Shirley remembers.

Sumner moved the cattle to safety but didn't make it back home for hours as he was following and fighting fire, eventually witnessing much of his year-old hay burning.

“We are so appreciative of everyone

— a little community like this, they really step up in tough times like this. We are so grateful that there have been no serious injuries or loss of life. Onward we go.”Shirley Shockley

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The picnic guests she was hosting turned out to be a blessing, Shirley said, because the men moved their haying equipment out of the fire's path, and the women helped her gather up household items like pictures and files, in case the fire took their home.

The local volunteer firefighters were impressive, Shirley said, giving them credit for saving their home and outbuildings.

"They are amazing. They don't quit," she said of several of their neighbors who protected their ranch headquarters.

The Shockleys and their neighbors lost pasture, fence and more. Some neighbors lost outbuildings including shops and tools. While no cattle are known to have died, some have not yet been accounted for.

The couple's daughter and son-in law-Ryker and Carrie Hyche needed to move 400 yearlings out of harm's way. "I made a few calls and we had four trucks and eight or nine pickups with trailers in about 40 minutes," Carrie said. A local feedyard took the cattle in, all while the volunteer fire departments were battling the blaze in their backyard. "Knowing you have friends and neighbors who will drop everything at a moments notice to help out in a crisis is one of the best feelings in the world," she said.

Shirley, whose childhood home — vacant for several years — burned in the fire, is thankful for friends and neighbors for fighting fire and offering help.

"One of my classmates showed up yesterday with a tractor and posthole digger. I told him we don't even have posts yet. He just wanted to help us or neighbors, anyone."

"It's taken so much of our history, the landmarks are gone. You don't even know where you are," Shirley said. "But you can sure see the cactus.

"A little community like this, they really step up in tough times like this. We are so grateful that there have been no serious injuries or loss of life. Onward we go."

Lightning is the suspected cause of the Britania Mountain Fire burning in Albany and Platte counties, west of Wheatland, Wyo. The fire, now estimated at 64 percent containment, up from 33 percent in 24 hours, is burning on private and federal land, fueled by timber and grass.

According to officials, the fire started Sunday, Aug. 26 and had grown to 24,105 acres by Thursday morning. Thursday evening, officials reported the fire at 26,028 acres and 64 percent containment with the help of 436 personnel. Shifting winds and rugged terrain offer challenges for the crews on scene, one from as far away as Florida.

Construction of a fire line continues on the north and east sides of the fire. Crews worked along Palmer Canyon Road to protect structures and aviation support is on scene with single engine air tankers and helicopter water drops.

Wyatt Dunlap, a volunteer firefighter in the Laramie Peak Fire Zone was called out early Sunday morning, according to Katie Shockley, Sumner and Shirley's granddaughter.

Dunlap and his father, Scott, were among the first on the scene and he stayed until Tuesday, leaving only to attend classes at nearby University of Wyoming in Laramie.

Dunlap knew his horses were in danger with the growing fire but the shifting winds and rough terrain made it too dangerous to access the area to reach them.

Once the fire passed the area, Dunlap said his three horses were there, unharmed.

"It's always hard to see a fire go through," he said. "It's just a lot of work. Everyone puts in a lot of work to put out a fire, a lot of long days and long nights, and you don't get much sleep."

Local rancher Kerry Powers said firefighting crews from around the county arrived quickly on the scene and protected some of the first ranch headquarters that were endangered, he said.

"They actually stopped it from burning Shockleys' place. They were the first on the fire line, probably on the east and north, that's where the fire made its first big run."

The expertise of the firefighters – both the local crews and the hotshots from around the country – is notable, Powers said. "We would watch a spotter plane drop vapor ahead of the slurry bombers and then they would drop that slurry right where the spotter plane marked out for them. They dropped it quite a ways from the fire but they knew right where it was headed, we watched it creep up to that fireline and then stop."

The perimeter of the fire was looking more controlled all the time on Friday afternoon, said Powers, and wind was minimal. The interior of the fire was still burning "hot and heavy" but it appeared that the fire would likely be stopped at Palmer Canyon.

The fire burned within about a mile of his property, Powers believes, but he has not been allowed to travel to the site to confirm.

According to officials, the community has been generous in donations of necessary items for firefighters. There is a catering crew on site. Officials urge those wishing to contribute to consider making monetary donations to local districts that responded in the early stages of the fire as they will have significant resources to replenish. Districts local to the fire are Palmer Canyon Fire, Laramie Peak Fire, Albany County Fire District No. 1, Sybille Volunteer Fire Zone, Garrett Fire Zone, Wheatland Volunteer Fire Department, Glendo Rural Fire Department, Gurnsey Rural Fire Department, Gurnsey Fire Department, Hartville Fire Department, Antelope Gap Fire Department, and Chugwater Fire Department.

Donations of pre-stamped postcards and stamps for firefighters to utilize are being collected at the Incident Command Post at the Platte County Fairgrounds.