CODY - With numerous stands of beetle-killed pines, and mountaintops virtually devoid of snow, Shoshone National Forest officials are preparing for a busy wildfire season.
"The dryness is piquing our interest," Rick Connell, assistant fire management officer, said. "Really, it all depends on spring moisture."
If rain falls consistently throughout the summer as it did last year, the threat of severe fires will be reduced dramatically, he said.
However, if current conditions hold, the half-million acres of insect-killed timber could go up in a flash, fire management officer Mark Giaceletto said Tuesday.
"Whatever comes, we'll be ready for it," he said.
The Shoshone's permanent fire staff stands at 24: 16 firefighters and eight fire managers trained as firefighters.
The forest has a number of engines on hand which Giaceletto said will be staffed seven days a week this summer.
A pair of Cody-based hand crews will stand ready throughout the wildfire season, Connell said.
The forest also has access to a government-contracted helicopter based out of Lander, Connell said, and a pair of air tankers - one in Billings, Mont., and the other at West Yellowstone, Mont.
Additional seasonal personnel may also be added if needed, he said.
Typically, 25 fires break out each year in the Shoshone. Timely rains last summer limited the number of fires to eight, while in 2003, crews handled nearly 50.
"We'll fall somewhere in that range this year," Connell said.
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