(Connie Werner courtesy photo)

JJ Werner sprays another hot spot on the JS Rankin Ranch Fire 25 miles northeast of Douglas Sunday afternoon. Hot and dry rangeland conditions make for prime wildfire situations here.

The fire season continues to be a busy one in parched Converse County, but fortunately the one that hit JS Rankin Ranches this past weekend was not as bad as it could have been.

The ranch sits about 25 miles northeast of Douglas. 

The fire that began mid-afternoon Sunday is believed to be caused by lightning that struck a tree before spreading, said Connie Werner whose husband J.J. Werner helped put out the fire.

Crews from the Douglas Volunteer Fire Department, Converse County Rural Fire and firefighters from the Bureau of Land Management and Niobrara County came as quickly as they could to assist in the fire suppression efforts. 

Everyone was quick to come out and contain the fire so it didn’t grow, especially with conditions being as dry as they are, she said. 

Only some grass and trees were burned. No one was hurt nor was any property destroyed, said Bruce Murray said, adding that while he did not know how many acres burned it was likely less than 100 acres. 

Murray is the neighbor of rancher Joe Rankin who was out of town at the time of the fire. 

“With this being a 100-degree day, it doesn’t take much,” Murray said about the chances for a fire. “Thank goodness we didn’t have high winds.”

Initially, the fire appeared to be a big one as the smoke proliferated into the air when Murray arrived to help, but when he got closer to the flames it was not as bad as he anticipated.

“It didn’t seem that big,” he said. “As fires for us goes, it was uneventful. A good fire is one you can’t say much about.”

The fire shows that there is no time to ease up on the fire restrictions, which have been in effect in Converse County since June 15.

Under the ban, all outdoor and open fires and fireworks are prohibited, except:

• Gas and charcoal fires within enclosed grills

• The use of acetylene cutting torches and/or electric arc welders in cleared areas 10 feet in radius. A fire suppression or fire guard must also be on site.

• Propane or open fire branding activities in cleared areas 10 feet in radius

• Trash or refuse fires between 6-10 p.m. where fires are contained inside of containers, are attended and provided with spark arresters and are within 10 feet in radius

• Controlled burns for range improvements, but only with the written permission of the county fire warden

Maximum penalties for violators in Converse County are up to 30 days in jail and a $100 fine.

The dry conditions are unlikely to change for the near future. Since Oct. 1, Douglas has received 4.32 inches of precipitation, which is about 51% less than normal, 8.90 inches, according to the National Weather Service of Cheyenne.

Temperatures are expected to remain hot with highs in the mid-90s with chances of thunderstorms for the next few days.

The likelihood that the storms will put a dent into the drought is “unlikely,” said Lauren Kubelka, meteorologist for the National Weather Service of Cheyenne.

Attempts to reach the Douglas Volunteer Fire Department for comments on the fire were made, but they did not respond as of press time.

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