Hundreds of homes have been evacuated in Medicine Bow National Forest since Sunday because of a rapidly growing wildfire, but some evacuees are concerned with the process.
“We went through the Squirrel Creek Fire (in 2012), and we got a pre-evacuation notice and had all day to get our stuff together,” Karen Green said. “This time, we got no pre-evacuation notice, and when we got the evacuation orders — it was a cop knocking on our door at 9 p.m., telling us we had three hours to get out.”
Karen Green and her husband, Dennis, live about a half-mile south of Woods Landing, which was evacuated Monday. While fire crews coordinated with Albany County Emergency Management to issue pre-evacuation orders to Woods Landing and communities south to the Colorado state line, the Greens do not have access to the internet and said they didn’t receive a phone call.
“We don’t have smartphones or the internet or anything like that,” Dennis Green said. “The assumption these days is everyone is connected, but there are a lot of people who aren’t connected. We can’t afford the internet service or the computer or all the stuff that goes along with that.”
So far, Mountain Home, Wold Tract, Wyocolo, Miller Lake, Beehive, Gramm, Woods Landing, Fox Park and all residences south of Woods Landing to the Colorado border have been issued evacuation orders and Foxborough has been issued a pre-evacuation notice, the Forest Service incident report states.
Albany County Emergency Management Coordinator Aimee Binning said a call was sent out, but last year, the notification system was changed, which could have prohibited some people from receiving the notice.
“In July of 2017, Albany County and the city of Laramie accepted a new phone alert provider,” Binning explained. “We did some media blitzes encouraging people to sign back up, because providers don’t sell user information, which meant the new company — Everbridge, Inc. — couldn’t buy the old company’s contact list.”
But for the Greens, the problem was bigger than just missing a pre-evacuation notice.
“We couldn’t get any information about the fire,” Karen Green said. “If we called the (Albany County Sheriff’s Office), all we got was dispatch, and you didn’t get the answers you were looking for.”
Without the internet, the couple relies on older methods of obtaining information, such as the phone book. But Karen Green said phone books provide less numbers these days and don’t list government numbers.
As the fire crawled closer to their home, the Greens were unaware of the danger.
“The whole neighborhood thought we were all fine and good,” Karen Green said. “We couldn’t even see the smoke from our home.”
Binning said 516 land owners have property in the evacuation area.
“The evacuation went well,” she said. “The fire team making the evacuation decisions worked well with the emergency management team. Their primary focus is public safety and taking into consideration the structures that were at risk.”
When an evacuation takes place, an emergency management team sends out an Albany County alert to notify people of eminent danger. Before issuing an alert, the team works with agencies such as the Forest Service and Sheriff’s Office, which determine the risk associated with an incident, Binning said.
“Once that is done, the work doesn’t end,” she said. “There’s a lot of cooperative partners that we work with to stay up to date.”
Emergency management teams provide the public information about available resources for evacuees, organize meetings to keep people affected by an incident informed and work with fire crews to get people back into their homes as soon as the danger has passed, Binning said.
About 15 miles away, near WyColo Lodge on Wyoming Highway 230, Amanda Atkinson and her family had a different experience with the Badger Creek Fire evacuation.
“We didn’t have any indication there was a fire when we got the pre-evacuation notice (Sunday),” said Atkinson, who owns property near Foxborough and lives in Cheyenne. “We were already back to Cheyenne when we found out about the evacuation. So, we drove back to check it out, and you could see massive walls of flame moving toward the (WyColo) Lodge. It was wild.”
Because her husband received the notice, Atkinson said she wasn’t sure if it came through over the phone alert system or from a friend, but she said the couple was happy with the way the U.S. Forest Service handled it.
“(Monday) morning, my husband talked to the person in charge of the fire, and he felt good about the information he got from the Forest Service,” she said.
The Atkinsons were also evacuated for the Squirrel Creek Fire and were affected by the Keystone Fire evacuation in 2017.
“Every year, something close is impacted,” Atkinson said. “These events are crisis situations, but also opportunities to see how the community supports each other.”
Atkinson said her husband returned to their cabin Monday with several friends to grab what they could.
“We focused on getting our equipment out — the more costly, harder to replace things like the generator, our camper and vehicles,” she said. “My main thing is my kitchen. My cast iron, my propane, my burner. Some of those things might survive a fire, but my husband knows he better save Momma’s cast iron.”
Having witnessed several fires in the area since purchasing their property, Atkinson said it’s a bittersweet experience.
“You see the benefit of the fire, because the forest needs to burn,” she explained. “But there’s also all the history wrapped up in the lodge. People’s livelihood is in that mountain.”
Gov. Matt Mead also owns property in the evacuation area.
“The forest service and local law enforcement have been working tirelessly to safely evacuate hundreds of structures in areas near the fire where a significant number of those structures are permanent residences,” Mead said. “We were given an evacuation order, but have no one in residence at the ranch. The forest service, fire crews, state forestry and law enforcement are battling this fire and doing all they can to keep the residents and structures safe. I thank them.”