© Andy Carpenean/Boomerang photographer
A sudden wind shift draws smoke back over the top of Sheep Mountain Tuesday as the Squirrel Creek fire spreads.
Fed by bone-dry timber and fanned by hot winds, the four major wildfires burning in Wyoming today have destroyed an unknown number of buildings and forced hundreds to evacuate.
The Albany County Sheriff's Office issued an immediate evacuation notice this morning for areas east of Sheep Mountain to Harmony Lane, and south of Lake Hattie as crews battle the Squirrel Creek Fire near Woods Landing southwest of Laramie. The notice includes the area northwest of Lake Hattie to Highway 130.
The evacuation center is the Albany County Fairgrounds. For more information, call 307-721-1801.
Authorities urged evacuees to assist neighbors if necessary.
The Albany County media release also advised that the Arapaho Fire in the county's northeast area is advancing quickly. Authorities said residents should be prepared to leave the area immediately. "This fire is moving at unprecedented rates," the release said.
The Arapaho Fire, currently the state's largest, is burning near Laramie Peak southwest of Wheatland. It had burned nearly 88,000 acres by this morning, fire spokesman Jim Whittington said.
The fire was classified as 10 percent contained and has burned an undetermined number of structures as it has fanned out in rough terrain in the mountains near Laramie Peak.
"The real story on this fire has been the erratic winds, we've had this fire push north, push south, push east and push west at various times," Whittington said.
Whittington said fire managers are pleased with the progress that the nearly 575 personnel fighting the fire have made. He said local fire departments and officials have been particularly helpful in protecting cabins and other structures.
"We've got structural protection in place, for all the places that might be affected today and tonight," Whittington said. "We'll be very vigilant about that."
State Forester Bill Crapser said today that 300 structures had been evacuated in and around the Arapaho Fire.
Officials are paying particular attention to the west side of the fire, Whittington said. He said there's a possibility that the fire could move into new terrain where a combination of getting into a new drainage combined with the right fuels and wind could cause it to become extremely active.
"We're going to do our best to prevent that, but we have a lot of exposed line out there," Whittington said.
The National Weather Service issued a red flag warning for much of Wyoming on today, projecting gusty winds and very warm temperatures.
Conditions around most of Wyoming are extremely dry, Crapser said. He said logs up to 6 inches in diameter are showing moisture levels as low as 6 percent.
"My folks out in the field with 25 to 30 years of experience are telling me they've never seen anything like this before, as far as fire behavior," Crapser said. He said one worker took a video of a wall of flame perhaps 400 feet tall coming over a ridge at the Arapaho Fire.
The Oil Creek Fire, burning northwest of Newcastle in Weston County, blew up from 6,000 acres to about 20,000 acres overnight, Crapser said. He said it forced the evacuation of more than 400 people, including residents of the town of Osage, but had only apparently burned a single building so far.
Crapser said local fire departments, as well as some fire departments from South Dakota, have helped to battle the fire.
The Squirrel Creek Fire had burned almost 7,000 acres by this morning, according to a government news release.
Crapser said more than 300 people had been evacuated from the Squirrel Creek Fire, which is burning on the eastern flanks of the Snowy Range. He said up to 180 structures were covered by the evacuation order.
The Fontenelle Fire, about 17 miles west of the western Wyoming community of Big Piney, had burned nearly 56,000 acres in Sublette and Lincoln counties by this morning.
Crapser said today that it appears that both the Squirrel Creek and Oil Creek fires were human-caused. He said that typically 15 percent of the wildfires in the state are human-caused.
Gov. Matt Mead toured the Arapaho Fire on Monday and later said he's calling on county governments around the state to impose fire restrictions. The governor called on citizens not to use fireworks on the Fourth of July because of the fire risk.