A layer of snow that blanketed the mountains to the west on Sunday was a welcomed sight for everyone inside and around the Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest.
The expansion of the massive Mullen Fire about 30 miles west-southwest of Laramie dramatically slowed as a cold front passed through the area. Snow accumulations of about 2 inches — up to 5 inches in some localized pockets — limited the blaze to just 29 acres of growth Sunday.
The precipitation continued to reduce fire activity and spread, with the fire expanding 649 acres Monday because of increased winds.
According to a Mullen Fire fact sheet released at 9 a.m. Tuesday by a Southern Area Type 1 Blue Team managing the firefighting efforts, the fire was at 176,213 total acres, and containment increased to 30%. The fire perimeters marked as contained are on the western and southern edges up through the Mountain Home area and a section northwest of Woods Landing.
A total of 1,215 firefighters and support staff were still working the blaze, but aircraft operations were limited due to strong winds.
Also on Tuesday, the Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest released a statement that it had assembled a Forest Service Burned Area Emergency Response (BAER) team, which began a burn area assessment for the Mullen Fire starting Saturday.
The team “began working to assess post-fire hazards within and downstream of the Mullen Fire burned area,” the release stated. “The fire is currently 30% contained, and weather will soon change to decrease fire activity.
“With winter weather conditions expected in the coming weeks, this team will work quickly to conduct an assessment of the burned area and determine the potential for increased post-fire flooding, erosion potential, debris flows and hazard trees before snow covers the burn area.”
The released says the team is comprised of hydrologists, soil scientists, road engineers, biologists and archaeologists.
Some of the significant events included in the Tuesday fact sheet included:
— Fire on the northern end slowed fire progression into the French Creek drainage. Larger fuels that only smoked Monday morning began actively burning in the afternoon as fuels dried. Active fire developed around Albany and Fox Creek Road in the afternoon, but firefighters were able to keep it within established fire lines.
— A fire line was established near the Middle Fork as a barrier to fire progression toward Centennial, and structure protection in that community remains a priority.
— Firefighters also continued to work near Keystone, Rambler, Foxborough and Fox Park, with structure protection remaining in place.
— Fire breaks were also improved south of Ryan Park, and the community conducted a cleanup of brush to help firefighters protect structures, if needed. Structure protection supplies were pre-positioned in Ryan Park as a precaution.
— Colorado Highway 127 reopened from Colorado Highway 125 to the Wyoming border for local residents, but they remain under a pre-evacuation order to be ready if conditions change.
Stronger winds — 30-40 mph and possible gusts from 60-75 mph — were expected to develop Tuesday night and continue through Wednesday, switching from out of the northwest, which is a concern for the firefighting management team. The cold front Wednesday with high temperatures of 45-50 degrees was expected to be drier, with less precipitation than the previous front.
The following areas are still under mandatory evacuation per the Albany County Emergency Management Agency and Albany County Sheriff’s Office: East of Highway 11 along Sheep Mountain from Fox Creek Road north to Hecht Creek; Fox Creek Road including areas west of Highway 11 south of the Middle Fork Canyon; the communities of Rambler, Rob Roy and adjacent areas, Albany, Foxborough, Fox Park, Lake Creek, Wold, Beehive, Mountain Home, Graham and adjacent areas; and the Keystone communities of Keystone Proper, Lower Keystone, Langford/Ricker, Moor’s Gulch and 507c cabin grouping.
Areas still under pre-evacuation orders are: areas near Sheep Mountain to Lake Hattie Reservoir and north of Highway 230; Meadow Plains Road south to Yankee Road; Centennial; and everything along Highway 10, including Woods Landing and Jelm, to the Colorado border.
For current information from Albany County on the evacuations and pre-evacuations, visit the Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/Albany-County-Sheriffs-Office-618424944997540.
For the most current information on Wyoming and Colorado road closures, go online to https://www.wyoroad.info/pls/Browse/WRR.STATIC5?SelectedDistrict=1 and https://cotrip.org/travelAlerts.htm#?roadId=.
No estimate is available for reopening closed roads.
According to the incident website, the estimated containment date for the Mullen Fire, which started Sept. 17, is Oct. 30.
For comparison purposes, the Cameron Peak Fire, less than 30 miles southeast of the Mullen Fire in Colorado, which started Aug. 13, had consumed 134,960 acres as of Tuesday and was 56% contained. Its expected containment date recently changed from Oct. 31 to Nov. 8.