Cheatgrass Could Start Wildfire Season Early

Cody – Heavy snow-pack in the mountains may slow the start of the fire season this summer. But, an invasive weed could start fires earlier than expected. Cheatgrass is spreading across the landscape in Northwest Wyoming.

A large fire is something people don’t want to see near their homes this year. The big fire season started in Northwest Wyoming near Cody last August, with the Whit Fire in Wapiti, and the Hunter Peak Fire near Crandall. Thousands of acres, one home, and several outbuildings were burned.

But, a snow-pack up to 200 percent in the mountains last winter, may help slow the start of the fire season this summer.

Shoshone National Forest Fire and Aviation Staff Officer Mark Giacoletto explained, “We’re not in any drought conditions right now. We’ve still got quite a bit of snow up in the higher elevations. And, so in general, the start of the fire season is probably a little ways off yet.”
Most of the water in Northwest Wyoming comes from snow-pack in the mountains, and snowmelt in the spring. Most of the fires come from rainstorms, and lightning strikes in the summertime.

Shoshone National Forest Fire Officer Mark Giacoletto says those fires start when grasses, plants, and trees are dried. So an invasive plant that cures, or dries early is a fire starter.

That’s why the large patches of purple cheat grass on the mountain slopes between Cody and Yellowstone are concerning.

Giacoletto said, “You know we have noticed an increase of cheatgrass up in the North Fork and a couple of other areas of the forest. Cheatgrass tends to be an invader, and it occupies the drier sites to start with. It cures out faster. It’s fairly volatile as a fuel when it comes to fire.
He said cheatgrass is also a problem in parts of Wyoming’s Big Horn Basin.

Yet, he said this summer’s fire season may start later, and will have fewer big fires…because of the weather forecast.

He explained, “In this area for the next couple of months is above average precipitation, and temperatures that are above average, too. So, it could come down on the warm and wet side.”