Shedhorn fire holding at 75 acres
Despite early issues, the alpine wildfire is stabilizing
F irst called in by a concerned member of the public from Nine Quarter Circle Ranch on the afternoon of Sept. 27, the Shedhorn Fire has hovered around 75 acres for the last week in the Upper Taylor Fork drainage. As of Oct. 4, the fire is now 50% contained and the cause is still under investigation. The wildfire is located approximately 12 miles southwest of the Yellowstone Club but has remained stable despite some initial challenges. Fire crews struggled to access the wildfire due to the remote location and interruptions from drones flying in the area early on. According to U.S. Forest Service personnel, the first drone was spotted on day one of the fire; a second and different drone interrupted operations on day two. When a drone is spotted close to a wildfire, due to the risk of collision, the USFS policy is all aircraft must leave the area. Helicopters, smokejumpers, and retardant planes immediately suspend operations and typically return to base. Jay Fassett, the USFS Incident Commander for the Shedhorn Fire, explaine,: “First night we wanted to send the world to it but we couldn’t [due to the drone]… You cannot reenter the airspace until you find the operator or just wait for air attacks to agree to come back at their comfort.” A single drone incursion immediately impacts fire suppression efforts, can put folks' lives at risk, and can cost taxpayers money. For example, a plane had to jettison a load of retardant—wasting the entire resource—because it could not land fully loaded and had to immediately return to base. The USFS tag line is: “If You Fly, We Can’t.” On day two of the fire, in a much more dangerous maneuver, a drone flew over the top of a Twin Rotor Chinook helicopter while it was scooping water. This drone forced all aircraft out of the area for the second time. “You can hear it in their voices [the pilots]. It’s not worth risking an accident,” told Fassett. The penalty for flying drones that interfere with wildfire suppression on public lands, according to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), includes fines up to $20,000 and potentially criminal prosecution. The FAA however generally encourages law enforcement to use education for unintentional violations due to lack of understanding or simple mistakes. Asked whether these drone incidents could be a case of an unaware teen flying their new camera equipment, Fassett believes people often enter the airspace to get the shot. “It’s usually people who are trying to capitalize on the moment through a Facebook or Youtube post,” said Fassett. The operators of the drones are currently under investigation by USFS Law Enforcement. As of Monday, Oct. 4, the Shedhorn Fire is 50% contained one week in and still hovering around 75 acres (about the area of a large shopping mall). The fire itself is burning spotty in scraggly alpine fir with a lot of hung up dead wood. It takes about an hour and half for teams to access the fire on foot near the base of Koch Peak. “A traditional fire line wasn’t in the cards for this,” told Fassett. “Here with all of the overhead hazards, snags, steep uneven terrain, and the spottiness of the fire—we switched our tactic.” The number of folks on the fire is down from last weeks’ 80 firefighters to 50. With little recent lightning activity reported in the area, the cause of the fire is still currently under investigation. No structures have been lost or are currently at risk. Asked to rate on a scale to ten if members of the Big Sky community should be seriously worried about the risks of the Shedhorn fire, Incident Commander Jay Fassett gave it 2 out of 10. Because of the time of year, cooler October temperatures, and potential for a season ending precipitation event, the Shedhorn does not appear to be high risk. According to the National Interagency Fire Center, there have been 46,279 fires in 2021 with 5.9 million acres burned (about the area of New Jersey) across the United States. This sits below the 10-year average of 47,161 fires annually with 6.5 million acres burned. The USFS continues to ask the public to keep out of the area and has issued a closure starting at the junction of Cache Creek Road. To find out more about the closure or view reports on the Shedhorn fire, please visit the Custer Gallatin Forest Service website closure page or visit https://inciweb.nwcg.gov/incident/7856.