The Fremont County Wildland Fire Management Program (Firewise) was established in the fall of 2000 to develop a cooperative plan to lessen the likelihood of severe wildland fires in the wildland/urban interface. The program provides service to the entire county (about 9,200 sq miles) and 37 identified Communities at Risk documented in the CWPP.
The Firewise program’s goal is to provide public education about Firewise home design, Firewise landscaping, and to provide Wildfire Mitigation plans and assistance to help reduce the wildfire hazards in and around homeowner’s property.
As a Division Chief with Fremont County Fire District, Ron Wempen has been involved with the Firewise program as the coordinator for the last 6 years. His formal education is in fire science, as well as environmental science. His background with fire suppression (both structural and wildland) locally and nationally is beneficial when providing education to local residents on best practices in the WUI.
With such a large county, the fuels are as diverse as its population. The local WUI is expanding rapidly into conifer forests in the mountain foothills, and the juniper/brush steppes of the mid elevations. Lower elevations are characterized by grass and sage with river corridors throughout the valley bottom.
The county has a permanent population of 40,000, but swells well above 50,000 with seasonal residents during summers. The program would not be nearly as successful as it has been with out the cooperators at the county, state, and federal levels who are actively involved with our program.
The Union Pass Area is a cluster of subdivisions around Warm Springs Mountain that are all located in a large saddles or drainages at the 8000’ elevation. Homes and businesses here are grouped tightly together on small acreages, and are an intermix of permanent full time residences, and summer vacation homes.
The predominate vegetation species found here are Lodgepole Pine, Douglas Fir, Englemann Spruce and Quaking Aspen overstory, with scattered sagebrush, grasses, wildrose, and various other forbes and legumes in the understory. The Warm Springs Mountain Subdivisions have had considerable fuels treatment initiated and completed in the past ten years, which proved beneficial during the 2016 Lava Mountain Fire.
Union Pass is the first Firewise Community established within Fremont County.
As an organized group, the Union Pass project continues to work towards improving conditions for residents and structures located there. Currently, fuel treatments are continuing for un-treated areas, and educational outreach is done area wide.
The group has long ago made partnerships with multiple agencies to assist them with strengthening the community. One of the strongest partners is the National Weather Service who created a Wildfire Ready Community with Union Pass. This is a spin off of the weather ready series elsewhere. NOAA also has helped with evacuation notification systems locally by committing to notification broadcasts for the Union Pass Community specifically.
Other partners have helped with fuels removal (USFS and BLM), and the local High Plains Power even assisted near some utility locations. Each year the community continues to expand on previous years work and success.
Homestead Park / Lander Mountain Road
Homestead Park is a gated subdivision and community 3 miles south of the incorporated city limits of Lander, and nestled on the north rim of Sinks Canyon and the Middle Fork of the Popo Agie. Lander Mountain Road is the only access to the growing, mainly summer home community nestled in a decadent lodgepole Pine, Douglas fir, and Engelmann spruce forest. The community is nearly surrounded by the Shoshone National Forest and Bureau of Land Management lands.
The subdivision is characterized by a one-way in / one-way out unimproved road, steep slopes and canyons, vertical rock faces, and a fire prone history. Just in the last few years, there have been six wildfires and an escaped prescribed fire, directly threatened the homes in the subdivision.
Homestead Park is another one the recognized Firewise Communities within Fremont County.
The community has been actively engaged in creating defensible space and landowner education since the beginning of the Firewise program in Fremont County.
In 2012, Fremont County Firewise and Wyoming State Forestry Division helped obtain a Community Assistance grant for the subdivision to create a large landscape fuels treatment among the structures. This project is nearing completion, and will create a fire adapted landscape for the structures and residents. Residents will continue to work with the partners of Firewise, Wyoming State Forestry Division, Fremont County Weed and Pest, Popo Agie Conservation District, and the BLM to maintain the newly created landscape by education and actions.