Yellowstone crews prepare for fire weather

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MAMMOTH, Wyo. - Yellowstone fire managers are getting ready for the worst part of the summer season. Hot weather and drying winds are creating dangerous wildfire conditions.

Technicians are testing the temperatures, the air, the skies, and the wood.

Yellowstone wildfires often start in the height of the tourist season -- July and August. They are often sparked by lightning, as was the 2003 Cub Creek fire, inside the Park's east entrance.

Lightning sparked a blaze at Cub Creek along the East Entrance Road on a late night in August. A change in wind direction pushed the blaze toward Fishing Bridge, and 17 miles of forest along the roadway were blackened.

Yellowstone deputy fire management officer Todd Opperman said, "Normally this would be kind of the fire season in Yellowstone National Park, typically for larger fire growth."

Opperman says by this time of year the park usually moves its fire danger index to high because the millions of acres of trees and grass are drying out.

He explained, "Larger fuels are very dry now."

Opperman has a team of fire managers monitoring conditions across the park.

One is Jessica Hadley, at Yellowstone's east entrance. She starts by recording electronic weather readings and testing the wind for speed and direction. Then she actually weighs the wood.

Hadley announced the weight of a grid of wood sticks, "I'd say that's probably seven. It was eight yesterday."

We asked, "Is that dry?"

Her answer, "Yes. After it rains, they're higher up, more like 25."

Opperman explained, "We're doing fuel samplings, as far as fuel moisture at nine sites around the park. Typically they're done every week to two weeks."

He said the fuel and weather reports help fire managers set the fire danger level. On this day it was high. There were no restrictions yet, but visitors were encouraged to be careful with campfires and smoking.

Opperman warned restrictions may be just around the corner.

He said, "If the weather stays like this, in the upper 80s, close to 90s, clear weather, we'll be pushing into very high fire danger at that point."

On Friday two small backcountry fires were being monitored by fire officials in Yellowstone.

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