Firefighters douse a small blaze near Interstate 80 on Sept. 14, 2020. (Mike Vanata)

Photographer Mike Vanata was zooming down Interstate 80 on Sept. 14 — heading home to Laramie from Jackson — when he came across a roadside fire. Flames were burning through grass next to the pavement. 

The fire was about the size of a tennis court, he said, and uncontrolled. Nobody was in sight. 

Vanata pulled over. He was driving a rental vehicle, and didn’t have gear to fight a blaze. So he attempted to flag down other drivers. 

Many kept right on driving. “Nobody would stop,” he said. Eventually, a Wyoming Department of Transportation employee pulled over. He had shovels. The two men went to work beating out flames and shoveling dirt on the flames, Vanata said. 

Sheriff’s deputies showed up, and then firefighters arrived. Vanata captured this image as three of the latter extinguished the last of the blaze. 

Vanata does not know what caused the fire, but suspects a cigarette butt or sparks emitted from a passing vehicle ignited the roadside vegetation. 

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With smoky skies, historic blazes on the West coast and a wildfire growing in southeast Wyoming, the 2020 wildfire season is shaping up to be one of the most consequential of modern times. 

Katie Klingsporn reports on outdoor recreation, public lands, education and general news for WyoFile. She’s been a journalist and editor covering the American West for 20 years. Her freelance work has...

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