Campground Closures Update
The following stories come from the nation's media and update the status of campgrounds in the West whose openings have been delayed by snow or flood.
To make sure that his underground fuel tank isn't washed away like an enormous bobber, Bill Hinrichs pumped the container dry and dumped dirt on top of it as record-high water has inundated his Rock Creek Marina on Fort Peck Reservoir's Dry Arm in the northeast part of the state.
A record-setting year of moisture has raised the 134-mile-long reservoir to its highest level ever, an elevation of 2,252.3 feet as of Thursday (June 16), the Billings Gazette reported. Full pool at the reservoir is 2,250. Inflows from the Missouri River, boosted by high water on the Musselshell River, have forced the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to release a record amount of water from its spillway — 52,000 cubic feet per second, 65,000 cfs when combined with the water being run through the powerhouse.
Yet the lake level keeps rising.
"If we could just drop back to normally high inflows, we'd drop pretty quickly at these releases," said John Daggett, the Army Corps' dam operations manager in Fort Peck.
But so far that hasn't happened, so boaters, anglers and campers traveling to Fort Peck Reservoir for a summer getaway should take note: some campsites and access routes are underwater.
At Hell Creek State Park, north of Jordan, the 44 campsites outfitted with electricity and another 15 to 20 others are high and dry, but 60 more spaces are underwater, said park manager Dave Andrus.
"The lake will have to drop 5 feet before we'll get those spaces back," Andrus said.
Although Hell Creek Marina is open and has fuel, there is no potable water or flush toilets available.
Farther west, the road to the Crooked Creek boat ramp had an 18-inch slump that the county was supposed to repair. But the question may be: Why bother to go there?
"That part of the lake is still real muddy from all of the inflows," said Bill Berg of the Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge, which surrounds the reservoir. "There's a lot of debris in the water, too."
At Fourchette Bay, the lower end of the campground is under standing water and about one-third of the sites are not accessible, Berg said. The two routes into the bay from the north are wet in spots.
The Corps closed off the Devils Creek boat ramp, south of Fourchette, because low areas were under water. Near Fort Peck, the Corps also closed the Flat Lake access east of the spillway.
Perhaps nowhere is the situation worse, though, than at Rock Creek Marina where the main access road is 3 feet underwater in one place. Visitors have boat into the marina after taking another route to the lake, but even then Hinrichs can offer only grocery supplies and bait.
"I have no fuel, sewer or water," he said Thursday. "My whole campground is shut down."
Normally, the Fourth of July weekend would be the peak of his business season. This year he would be happy to get 50% of what's normal. And he's worried that the water won't drop until late August, about the same time his business drops off following the celebration of Labor Day weekend.
Daggett said the Corps is at the mercy of what nature dishes out. If runoff from the mountains is curtailed and rainfall is localized or minimal, the lake could drop sooner. If not, the lake could stay high into August.
"It's a day-to-day operation," he said. "And if we get some big rainfalls, it will be adjusted."
There are fires burning in parts of the National Forest in Colorado, but in other areas there is so much snow that campgrounds can't open, KOAA-TV, Colorado Springs, reported.
The U.S. Forest Service, San Isabel National Forest is continuing to delay the opening of two campgrounds due to the lingering snowpack. Both campgrounds are on the Salida Ranger District. The Monarch Park Campground on Highway 50 near the summit of Monarch Pass and the North Fork Campground on County Road 240, north of Mt. Aetna will both remain closed due to snow. The U.S. Forest Service expects to have them open on June 24.
Gusty winds and high temperatures are hampering firefighters trying to protect homes, a popular national park and tinder dry patches of forest from several wildfires burning throughout the Southwest, Associated Press reported.
Along the New Mexico-Colorado border, the winds Thursday pushed one fire toward breaks that had been carved into the rugged landscape by bulldozers. Crews had anticipated the fire's movement and were prepared to hold the line with help from helicopters and air tankers.
The winds weren't as strong as expected, but fire officials said the area wasn't out of danger.
The nearly 700 firefighters battling the fire did experience some gusts and temperatures near triple digits.
The wind also raised concerns among firefighters battling Arizona's largest blaze at 760 square miles, or 487,016 acres, in the eastern part of the state. A pre-evacuation notice for an area in southeast Eagar was issued in the afternoon because of high winds and possible spot fires.
Containment on the Wallow Fire inched up to 33 percent, but more winds were predicted through the weekend.
"We're kind of keeping our fingers crossed for the next three days because of the predictions," fire information officer Richard Hadley said.
Fire managers were concerned about the fire burning in the Blue Range area south of Alpine — the least secure part of firefighters' lines and closest to the nearest town still threatened, Luna, N.M., where about 200 people live.
A line of cut fuels and intentionally burned areas was completed between Luna and the fire itself at daybreak Thursday, and fire commanders expressed confidence it would hold.
More than 4,600 firefighters are assigned to the fire.
A single campfire was the fire's "most likely cause," Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest supervisor Chris Knopp said. He confirmed that investigators had questioned two people but declined to say any more about the investigation. He called them "persons of interest," not suspects.
Hundreds of firefighters have been working for days along the Mew Mexico line to keep the flames out of Luna. Thousands of others are working the rest of the fire, including around three mountain resort towns in Arizona.
About 2,400 people remain evacuated from Alpine and Greer and smaller vacation enclaves after about 300 were allowed to return to the town of Nutrioso on Wednesday. On Sunday, all 7,000 people evacuated from the towns of Springerville and Eagar were allowed to go home.
The blaze became the largest in state history Wednesday, exceeding a 2002 fire that burned 732 square miles, or 469,000 acres, and destroyed 491 buildings. Though larger in size, the latest fire has destroyed 32 homes and four rental cabins.
Firefighting crews were busy across the West Thursday.
A blaze in the Coronado National Forest in southern Arizona has burned or damaged at least 40 homes and 10 other structures. Officials say the fire has grown to over 14 square miles, or about 9,300 acres, and is 17 percent contained.
Winds and searing temperatures also hit southeastern New Mexico, where firefighters battling a blaze that surrounded Carlsbad Caverns National Park had it 90% contained by Thursday night. Firefighters were confident they had corralled the blaze and protected the park's visitor center and employee housing. The fire began Monday and charred about 30,500 acres of desert scrub and forced the park to close for three days.
Elsewhere, crews fought smaller fires near Yakima, Wash., Veyo, Utah, and Westcliffe, Colo.
The outlook from the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho, calls for fire potential to be above normal in some parts of the West through September.