Pushed by winds of more than 70mph, the Mullen Fire burning in the Medicine Bow National Forest west of Laramie grew by more than 30,000 acres Saturday afternoon and now totals 69,138 acres.
John Peterson, information officer for the Rocky Mountain Area Blue Team, told Cowboy State Daily that the near-doubling of the affected land is due to 70-plus mph plus winds that spread the fire in all locations.
“The winds are really wreaking havoc on managing this fire. Not only in the intensity — which is extraordinary — but in the wind direction,” Peterson said.
“I know people in Wyoming know that the wind is something else, but this is extraordinary for us to have a big fire like this and to have the wind blowing in so many different directions with such high intensity,” he said.
After advancing 8 miles to the east on Friday, winds Saturday widened the fire perimeter, pushing it closer to Woods Landing, Chris Zoller, the Blue Team’s operations section chief, said during a Saturday night briefing.
The fire did not advance significantly on its western or northwestern edge on Saturday, Zoller said.
Woods Landing has already been evacuated, but the fire team on Saturday called for the evacuation of areas east of the community, he said.
“We were looking at 70 mph winds,” he said. “We had to get people out of there so if it did go out into the prairie, we didn’t have to worry about the people in front of it.”
Shortly after 2 p.m. Saturday, the Albany County Sheriff’s Office announced a mandatory evacuation, effective immediately for Wold, Beehive, Graham, Mountain Home and adjacent areas. Due to fire conditions, the preferred evacuation route was to the south.
A mandatory full evacuation was also ordered for areas near Sheep Mountain to Lake Hattie Reservoir and North of HWY-230. The preferred evacuation route is HWY 230 and travel East. Big Hollow Road to HWY 130 and travel East is also an option.
As of Saturday night, Zoller said he believed an evacuation was not in the immediate future for the town of Centennial.
“Centennial, you’re not out of the woods yet, but you’re looking really good for today and (Sunday) for sure,” he said.
Peterson said some relief is on the way with cooler temperatures and diminishing winds on Sunday.
“Tomorrow things will settle down a bit. It will still be windy but humidity will increase significantly,” he said. “There’s a chance for snow flurries tomorrow. No accumulation with the cloud-cover it will increase the humidity and drop the temperatures. Both of which affect fire intensity.”
However, conditions will dry again by Monday and Tuesday, Chip Redmond, the management team’s meteorologist, said during the briefing.
“We expect gusts all week” he said. “It is fall in Wyoming.”
Russ Bacon, supervisor of the Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest, said extended forecasts for the area indicated it could be quite some time before the fire is contained.
“We need to be aware that we are going to be with this fire for a while,” he said. “With the fuel situation and the weather the way it is, the team is already thinking long-term and that’s something for us all to be aware of.”
Earlier in the day, Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon tweeted that the fire had grown to 80,000 acres and tweeted-out a map and said that the red dots were thermal hot spots detected by satellite.
Cowboy State Daily was told the 69,138 acres figure was the correct amount.
More than 420 firefighters are battling the flames, along with air tankers.
Firefighters are working to protect structures and infrastructure threatened by the fire.
The extensive burning created air quality issues in Cheyenne, where the air quality on Saturday morning was rated “unhealthy” by the World Air Quality Index project.
This story was updated to include information from the Saturday evening briefing.