Wyoming wildfires prompt evacuations, warnings in Casper Mountain and Jackson
Published: September 10, 2012 12:06PM
Updated: September 10, 2012 01:11PM
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A wildfire burns near a home Sunday, Sept. 9, 2012 on Casper Mountain in Casper, Wyo. Residences and campgrounds were evacuated as the uncontained wildfire spread across the southeast portion of the mountain. (AP Photo/The Casper Star-Tribune, Alan Rogers)

CHEYENNE, Wyo. - Wildfires prompted authorities to evacuate 500 people from Casper Mountain and warn 1,000 people in Jackson to be ready to leave, as the threat of more fire-fanning wind at the tail of Wyoming's driest summer on record put the entire state under a National Weather Service red-flag warning.

The 7-square-mile fire about 10 miles southeast of Casper started Sunday and grew quickly, burning at least six structures overnight. State Forester Bill Crapser wasn't sure if any of the structures were homes but said firefighters thought it possible that even more buildings had burned.

The Casper and Natrona County fire departments devoted much of their equipment to trying to get a handle on the Sheep Herder Hill Fire on the east side of Casper Mountain.

"They're anticipating quite a bit of activity and potential growth," Crapser said. "We are going to have at least a couple days of pretty active fire behavior."

More than 150 homes were evacuated - about 400 people Sunday and another 100 Monday. About three-quarters of the homes were year-round residences and the rest were seasonal cabins, Crapser estimated.

The American Red Cross lodged nine evacuated families at the Parkway Plaza Hotel & Convention Center in Casper.

"We're assessing the situation today and will possibly set up a shelter," said Traci Aguilar, Red Cross branch manager for Natrona and Converse counties.

Firefighters requested more help from heavy air tankers and helicopters. The fire's cause was unknown.

Less than two miles south of Jackson, about 1,000 residents in the ski resort town in northwest Wyoming were being told to prepare to leave Monday because of the Little Horsethief Fire. The blaze had burned about 1,500 acres in a forested, mountainous area.

"Last night you could see a glow and trees torching here and there," fire spokeswoman Jesse Bender said Monday.

Snow King Resort, which borders the south side of Jackson, closed its summer lift line and trails.

More than 100 firefighters aided by three helicopters were battling the blaze, and more firefighting resources were ordered. The fire was 15 percent contained.

The online InciWeb incident information network described the Little Horsethief Fire, which began Saturday, as human-caused.

The forecast in much of Wyoming called for cooler weather and a chance of rain later in the week. But firefighters were concerned that winds from the south could push the Horsethief Fire to Snow King, and downhill to Jackson, before then.

Wyoming is ripe for more wildfires. This summer has not only been the state's driest on record but its warmest, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.