CASPER, Wyo. — A bolt of lightning struck on Rafter Q Ranch off Wyoming Highway 487 Monday afternoon. More than 24 hours later, firefighters were still waiting to deal with the outcome.
The flash struck and ignited an approximately 160-ton haystack, said Natrona County Fire Protection District Chief Kevin Finn. Because hay is compacted into such tight bales, water won’t penetrate it. When the fire began, the stack was about 24 feet tall.
“Once they get hit, there’s no putting it out,” Finn said. “The quickest way to put them out is to let them burn out.”
Once firefighters cleared about a 200-foot diameter containment area around the stack, they had nothing to do but wait.
The blackened dunes of mush still smoldered at 3 p.m. Tuesday as Darin Pepple began his shift of staffing the area. His job is to keep an eye out for spot fires until they can eradicate the core blaze, expected a few hours later. He said the job should take about two more people and at least one more truck.
As Pepple stood watch, ranch manager Shane Smithey used a tractor to transport the few surviving bales to a safe location yards away.
Smithey said the approximately 190 bales that burned cost about $35,000.
Natrona County Emergency Management Coordinator Lt. Stewart Anderson said lightning doesn’t strike hay every week, but such incidents are not unheard of.