By Ike Fredregill
Via Wyoming News Exchange
LARAMIE — A wildfire spotted near Wyocolo on Sunday engulfed approximately 2,300 acres in about 24 hours, causing the U.S. Forest Service to close Wyoming Highway 230 near Woods Landing on Monday.
The fire was first reported Sunday and estimated to be about 25 acres. Dry weather and high winds, however, quickly spread the fire North and East across a couple thousand acres by Monday evening, according to a U.S. Forest Service news release.
A Type II wildland firefighter team was called in by the Forest Service to respond to the blaze, which forced evacuations from multiple locations, including Mountain Home, Wold Tract, Wyocolo, Miller Lake, Beehive and Gramm, according to the Forest Service incident website.
“The Type II team is from the Rocky Mountain region, and they are called the Black Team,” Forest Service spokesperson Aaron Voos said. “They’ll be bringing about 100 fire personnel.”
As of press time, a pre-evacuation notice was issued to Woods Landing, Fox Park and Foxborough as well as all residences south of Woods Landing to the Colorado border, he said.
No injuries or lost structures have been reported, and the Forest Service cut the power to the fire area Monday as a precautionary measure, Voos said.
The cause of the fire is currently unknown, but its origin was near Forest Road 501, between Badger Creek and the North Fork of Pelton Creek, about 2 miles north of the Wyoming state line.
“We are asking anyone who has been in the area where the fire started to report any information they might have that could be of use to the investigation,” Voos said. “Specifically, on Forest Road 501, Forest Road 544D and Mountain Home (off-highway vehicle) Trail System.”
The fire is burning lodgepole pine in an area of the forest heavily affected by the mountain pine beetle epidemic, according to the Forest Service.
Albany County and Forest Service firefighters were the first at the scene of the fire, with two hand-crews and air support joining the response team Monday.
About 70 personnel were on the ground fighting the fire, Voos said.
“(Air support) includes the State of Wyoming helicopter, but it was unable to be used for fire suppression efforts because of high winds (Monday),” he said.
Firefighting personnel plan to fully suppress the fire by engaging the blaze in locations with the highest probability of success, the Forest Service stated in a media release. Ongoing firefighting efforts have focused on evacuation, public safety and fire assessment, Voos said. Evacuees are being asked by county officials to check in at the Harmony School on Highway 230. The Badger Creek Fire is approximately 10 miles south of the 2017 Keystone Fire, which burned 2,500 acres. Voos said both the Badger Creek and Keystone fires were in bad locations for a fire.
“Not that there is a good location, but wildfires can have some benefits, which are hard to appreciate with so many resources at risk,” he said.
While related by proximity and fuel source, the two fires are not identical, he said. “The way they’re different — with Keystone, we were fortunate we did not get any wind,” Voos explained. “This fire grew from very small to very big very fast, which was due almost completely to the weather conditions and wind.”
The Forest Service predicted the fire would continue to spread at an increasing rate if current weather predictions for today hold true.