Hazy skies over Steamboat result from Wyoming wildfire

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— There isn’t a wildfire burning in Colorado, New Mexico or Arizona, and there's just one of minor consequence in the Great Basin area of Western Utah.

So why was there a haze in Routt County’s otherwise crystalline September skies Thursday?

The likely culprits are the Sheepherder Hill Complex fire burning more than 15,416 acres in east-central Wyoming near Casper and the northeast flow of air entering Colorado.

Ellen Heffernan, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Grand Junction, confirmed the suspicion.

“We are seeing hazy skies across the region, and there is the fire near Casper and another big one in Montana. I do think that’s where it’s flowing into the region,” Heffernan said.

The Casper Star Tribune reported Thursday that 36 homes and 16 outbuildings had been destroyed in the fire and another 150 were evacuated. Another 750 are on evacuation notice in the vicinity of Casper Mountain.

Even as firefighters were battling the blaze in Wyoming, fire restrictions were lifted Friday in Steamboat Springs, and the federal Bureau of Land Management reported that fire restrictions on federal lands in neighboring Moffat County would be lifted Friday, as well. Lynn Barclay with the BLM in Craig wrote in a news release that the lifting of the fire ban extends beyond BLM lands to include Dinosaur National Monument and the Browns Park National Wildlife Refuge. She added that Rio Blanco County is expected to rescind fire restrictions in the coming week, and Moffat County is likely to follow suit the week of Sept. 24.

A recently updated jet stream map maintained by San Francisco State University showed Friday morning that a clockwise flow is driving north winds in Wyoming that turned to a northeast flow as they entered northern Colorado, effectively delivering air from the fire area to Routt County.

Despite the damage to property from the Sheepherder Hill Complex fire in Wyoming, the greatest wildfire issues in the West right now are on the Idaho/Montana border, according to an active fire map maintained by the U.S. Forest Service. The map shows that another hot spot is in the Cascade Mountains of Washington, where a recent spate of lightning touched off as many as 200 hot spots that closely are being watched.

To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205 or email tross@SteamboatToday.com

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