By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily
UPDATED AT 5:30 P.M. TUESDAY, SEPT. 29
At least 60 buildings inside the Medicine Bow National Forest have been damaged by the Mullen Fire, the Albany County Sheriff’s Office announced Tuesday.
Undersheriff Josh DeBree, speaking during the nightly briefing on the 82,600-acre Mullen Fire, said officials were able to get to the Lower Keystone, Lake Creek and Foxborough areas on the fire’s southern edge to assess damages.
He said officials determined that 29 homes and 31 outbuildings on 38 pieces of property had been damaged by the fire that started on Sept. 17.
“On behalf of everyone working on the fire, our hearts to out to anyone who lost property,” he said.
The damage came despite the efforts of firefighters to protect structures threatened by the flames from the fire and forest Supervisor Russ Bacon said without the efforts of the firefighters, the damage would have been worse.
“Without their amazing work in the last week, we likely would have lost more property,” he said.
On Tuesday, Chris Zoller, the operations section chief for the Rocky Mountain Blue Team management group, said the efforts of the more than 700 firefighters battling the flames remained focused on protecting structures inside the fire’s perimeter and in the areas where the fire is expected to spread.
He added that as officials had expected, dry, windy weather Tuesday led to increased fire activity.
Bacon reminded listeners to the briefing that long-term weather forecasts indicated the fire could go on for quite some time.
“A key point to recognize and acknowledge is that we are in this thing for the long haul,” he said. “Because of where we are at in terms of weather conditions and fuel conditions, we’ve got several weeks ahead of us of significant fire impact.”
Fire crews planned to use retardant on the Mullen Fire in Medicine Bow National Forest on Tuesday to strategically pre-treat areas adjacent to structures at risk.
This was one of the announcements made Tuesday morning on the fire tracking website InciWeb. The fire has now affected 82,649 acres and is at 0% containment.
No containment will be declared until the heat detected on the fire’s perimeter has fallen low enough to make it unlikely that the fire will grow beyond any established fire line. This involves monitoring the fire line and adjacent areas for several days for smoldering stumps, trees, ash pits or any other heat sources.
Crews will conduct fire severity assessments this week. Often, fires will burn in a mosaic pattern, leaving pockets of burned and unburned fuels.
However, when a fire with high intensity quickly moves through an area, it might leave larger swaths of blackened soil and vegetation. This will factor into whether any stabilization or rehabilitation may be needed at a later date.
Warmer temperatures are expected to return to the area along with drier air and gusting winds, which will result in near-critical fire weather conditions, officials said.
Increased fire activity is likely the next several days and extreme fire behavior is possible.
On Monday, crews worked on structure protection in multiple communities, including developed areas close to the fire’s perimeter and those a few miles further to the south and west.
Aircraft were heavily utilized on Monday to drop water on the fire after crews spent the weekend dealing with strong, gusty winds. Firefighters also prioritized assessing properties for any damaged or destroyed buildings.
Albany County Sheriff’s officers will contact affected homeowners.
Additional crews have been reassigned to the Mullen Fire after being released from working fires in the Pacific Northwest. This has increased the number of people working the fire to 738 as of Tuesday.
A number of roads have been closed, including WY 11 from the junction with County Road 47 into Albany, County Road 47 between WYO 11 and WYO 230, WY 230 from the Colorado border to Meadow Plains Road. There is no estimate on when these roads might reopen.