Despite Rain, Harsh Wildfire Season Still Expected

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) -- A lot of rain has been falling on Wyoming over the past week, but the state's firefighters aren't nearly ready to say the threat of wildfires has lessened.

If anything, State Forester Bill Crapser is worried that the danger could increase over the next several weeks.

``Really, the major forested areas of our state are in probably extreme fire potential for the year,'' he said during a news conference at the State Forestry Division headquarters Tuesday.

Fog, mist and nearly nonstop light rain interspersed with thunderstorms made much of Wyoming seem more like the Pacific Northwest from the middle of last week until early this week. But the forecast calls for more of what has become the norm: warm, dry weather.

``What we call the 1,000-hour fuels, which are fuels 3-10 inches in diameter, are running at somewhere around 10 percent moisture content statewide. In perspective, kiln-dried moisture is between 12-18 percent moisture content,'' Crapser said.

``So the large, woody fuels are actually drier than lumber you buy at the lumber yard.''

It takes persistent moisture for large, drought-stricken trees to become less flammable. Meanwhile, the recent moisture is encouraging grass and small plants grow - and possibly become kindling.

``If all of a sudden it turns off, hot and dry, the grasses cure out fast, we could have a worse situation than we had a week ago,'' Crapser said. ``If it keeps raining, we'll have a better situation.''

About 2 inches of rain fell on much of Wyoming over the past week. ``But if you look at annual precipitation, I think we're still 3 to 4 inches below what we should be for this time of year,'' Crapser said.

The regular U.S. Seasonal Drought Outlook released Thursday predicts the five-year drought will lessen through September in parts of Nebraska, Kansas, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and Montana.

Drought is expected to creep into Washington and linger in much of Montana, Idaho, Oregon, California, Colorado and Arizona and all of Wyoming, Utah and Nevada.

In Wyoming, the fire danger is expected to be above normal in the Black Hills, Powder River Basin, Medicine Bow and Sierra Madre ranges, and in western Wyoming from Yellowstone to Kemmerer.

A handful of small wildfires have broken out in the Black Hills, Big Horn Mountains and Grand Teton National Park this spring.