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Wyoming blaze exceeds 80,000 acres; aircraft able to return to service

by Greg Hirst, Oil City News |

CASPER, Wyo. – The Mullen Fire burning approximately 35 miles west of Laramie in the Medicine Bow-Routt National Fores has grown to 80,279 acres, U.S. Forest Service spokesman John Peterson told Oil City News Monday night.

The good news from Rocky Mountain Blue Team Incident Command’s virtual community update at 5 p.m. was that aircraft were able to return to service Monday, dropping water and retardant on areas on concern. Saturday’s 70-mph wind gusts and a low atmospheric ceiling due to a passing storm system on Sunday had grounded air operations.

The bad news from Incident Meteorologist Chip Redmond was that a coming dry air mass was likely to bring near-critical fire conditions back to the area after Sunday’s brief snow shower. The National Weather Service in Cheyenne predicts poor humidity recovery Monday night and virtually no chance of wetting rain through Wednesday.

The Mullen Fire is listed as 2 percent contained. According to Incident Commander Jared Hohn, “containment” refers to a portion of the fire’s edge that crews are confident will not grow. He said as this fire has continued to grow, the containment estimate may have to be revised downward.

Aircraft on the fire include 6 Type I (Black Hawk and Chinook) helicopters, 2 “medium,” Type II helicopters equipped with rappel crews, and 3 “light,” Type III helicopters.

Multiple CL-415 “Super Scoopers” are also in service, skimming nearby Lake Hattie and collecting 1,600 gallons of water in their bellies. Four “Fire Bosses,” single-engine tankers that can land on bodies of water and collect water, area also in service.

Operations Section Chief Chris Zoller said fire activity had increased Monday, and that crews were doing their best to protect assets at risk. At particular risk are the communities of Fox Park and evacuated communities southeast of the southern branch. Northwest winds are expected to persist throughout the week, Zoller said, driving the fire’s advance southeast.

The 2018 Badger Creek Fire burn scar in the air is expected to impede the Mullen Fire to the southeast somewhat, Zoller said.

He said crews were doing their best to install control lines within the Foxborough area, which maps reveal the fire’s perimeter has reached. Fox Park is also under active threat; Zoller estimates the fire’s perimeter is one-half to three-quarters of a mile from the community.

Investigations are still ongoing into any structural damage, and property owners will be notified directly when necessary by Albany County Sheriff’s officials, Zoller said.

Structure protection was continuing on Albany just east of the Branch II’s eastern tip, and has been completed in Woods Landing/Jelm.

Zoller said a “big unknown” was the southern perimeter of Branch II, where division Tango and Zulu are working to identify control features. Activity has also been high in recent days on the western front, where the fire crossed the Platte River into BLM land Sunday. Helicopters and hand crews are at work trying to control that activity, Zoller said.