It was like a scene out of Mad Max. Sunflowers waved in the wind and song birds fluttered from fence post to fence post along quaint Reese Road south of Shawnee.
In the distance, a trail of gray dust from the gravel roadway hovered above the landscape. Before long, a line of modified vehicles, those built to go just about anywhere in Converse County, appeared on the horizon.
The Converse County Rural Fire Department was en route from one grassfire to another just a few miles to the northwest on East Antelope Road, where a train car sparked a larger blaze July 24.
Scenes like this are pretty normal for Converse County when summer temperatures heat up, rain drops stop falling and grasses reach peak growth surpassing three feet in height.
With little rain and daily temperatures frequently hitting the mid 90s, a handful of small grassfires have already popped up this summer, but didn’t spread very far before being snuffed out by local rural firefighters.
According to deputy fire warden Travis Wills, grassfire season is just around the corner. From his observations, grass is curing and starting to dry out.
“This is kind of when fire season gets going,” he said on Monday of this week.
So far, most of the grassfires Wills has learned of came from up north, with most of the fires being stomped out rather quickly. He says grasses around Converse County are still green, but dry weather and warmer temperatures are starting to cure the grasses out.
“We’re still safe right now,” he said.
It is a similar picture for the Medicine Bow-Routt National Forests and Thunder Basin National Grassland, according to media spokesman Aaron Voos. He says there hasn’t been any recent grassfire events on the grassland or national forest thanks to a wet spring season.
“We had one around the Fourth of July . . . other than that, it’s been pretty quiet,” Voos said last week.
He says the grasslands have seen average or just above average precipitation, causing the slow start to the season. Because of that, Converse County and Thunder Basin National Grassland currently have no fire restrictions in place. In fact, only three counties in Wyoming have restrictions currently in place. Those locations include Weston to the northeast, along with Platte and Goshen to the southeast. All are under partial restrictions for the time being.
What we will see as the summer progresses all depends on what is handed down from mother nature in the coming weeks.
“It all depends on the weather,” he said. “Everything can change very quickly depending on what happens with the weather.”
The bigger question is what will the area look like in the coming weeks as the Wyoming State Fair comes to town. Wills says that is typically when grassfire season really turns up the heat. As late August and early September arrive, the season is typically in full swing.
“Right now, I hate to jinx ourselves, but we’re looking pretty good,” he noted. “It’s been pretty quiet.”
On the flip side, he knows just how fast conditions can change. At this time of the calendar year, a week of dry, hot weather can make a big difference.
“It’s been pretty hot and the grass is curing,” Wills said. “There’s definitely a potential for it.”
Regardless of the slow start to grassfire season, Voos warns folks to know the potential to cause fires when out in grassfire-prone locations.
“Even though there have not been a lot of (fire) starts, we want people to be safe,” Voos said.
He says putting campfires ‘dead’ out is a good starting point when participating in dispersed camping. Being able to touch the area where a fire has been and not feeling any lingering heat is a good measure to take.
Additionally, he said driving and parking in tall grass and dragging chains from pulling a trailer or camper can also spark unwanted fires. In essence, he asks folks to heed caution while recreating in the backcountry.
“There are a variety of things that can start a fire and can get a fire going,” he said.