Dying forests increase wildfire danger across the West

Close your eyes, and a 3,000-acre wildfire on the banks of the New Fork River in Wyoming’s Bridger Wilderness crackles deceptively, like a soothing campfire. But any sense of security is shattered quickly by the blaze’s more violent noises. The sounds of falling century-old pines clap across the meadow like gunshots, and the fire roars like a passing train when trees suddenly torch from the ground up.

On the morning of July 31, smoke hangs low like a blue-tinted fog over the lakes and pastures of Sublette County, Wyo., obscuring mountain views and filling the air with a smoky scent even in Pinedale, about 20 miles south.

Officials think the blaze, dubbed the New Fork Lakes Fire, was caused two days earlier by an abandoned campfire. An incident command post is just starting to take shape at a fire that will quadruple in size in less than a week, forcing temporary area closures and an increase in firefighting personnel from 162 to 323.