News: Camp Guernsey focuses on fire safety
Story by 1st Lt. Christian Venhuizen
CAMP GUERNSEY, Wyo. – Efforts to remove dangerous trees left ruined by fires from years past, continue as a part of a mixed group of safety, reclamation and training programs at the Wyoming National Guard’s Camp Guernsey Joint Training Center.
Teams of Smokebusters, Wyoming inmates learning to be wildland firefighters, cleared trees, logs and brush from roadways and trails in parts of Sawmill Canyon recently added to the camp.
The trees, some blackened and others gray from fire damage, lined the single easement into and out of that section of the canyon.
Col. Richard Knowlton, Camp Guernsey’s commander, said there are multiple hazards – from the trees and logs falling onto people, or blocking the road, to the brush catching fire and preventing fire crews from entering, or escaping along the roadway.
“It mitigates our risk to the public, to the soldiers and to others,” said Capt. Aaron Ohnstad, range operations officer for the camp.
“It’s going to give you an opportunity to have a kicking off point if you should have to do a (fire) lineout here, or a kick off point if you should have to establish a line,” said Lee Williams, the Wyoming Honor Farm site manager for the Forestry Conservation Program. The program includes the Smokebusters.
It also prevents injuries from rolling and falling branches and tree trunks, said Knowlton.
Removing the problem trees and allowing the remaining debris to re-fertilize the soil is one step in the process to encouraging native seed growth to begin before plants like cheat grass take hold, the colonel said.
Cheat grass is among the invasive species that sprouts early, covers large areas, then dies quickly – all leading to increases in fire danger.
In other fire-damaged areas of the camp, similar reclamation has returned visible tree and vegetation re-growth. That re-growth will eventually allow the camp to consider reopening those lands to grazing, hunting and training, said Ohnstad.
He said the grazing itself is a fire prevention method used by the camp, benefiting local ranchers and those training on the site. “Instead of prohibiting use, we encourage use.”
While grazing helps mitigate fire hazards, Camp Guernsey maintains a firefighting force, capable of wildland, aircraft and structure fire response. Camp Guernsey’s fire department maintains mutual aid agreements with community fire departments in the eastern Wyoming communities.
An April 1 fire, which began on private property near the camp, spread onto Camp Guernsey. The response through mutual aid, prevented significant damage to the camp and surrounding areas, said Staff Sgt. Alan Snook, Camp Guernsey’s fire chief.
“The rapid response and cooperation between the agencies resulted in minimal impact on training of the soldiers and airmen at Camp Guernsey,” Snook said. “Without this teamwork and cooperation automated targets and range facilities could have been threatened.”
Responders stretched from the Guernsey Volunteer Fire Department and the Guernsey Rural Fire Department, to Glendo Rural Volunteer Fire Department, the Hartville Volunteer Fire Department, Antelope Gap Volunteer Fire Department and the Palmer Canyon Volunteer Fire Department.
It also included the Smokebusters helping to clear the camp of debris.