The perimeter of the Mullen Fire continued to slowly expand Friday into Saturday.
But since the blaze began Sept. 17 in the Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest about 40 miles southwest of Laramie, it has been proven the burn intensity and activity can change rapidly.
The fire was last measured at 174,911 as of about noon Saturday, a growth of 1,164 acres since Thursday night.
The weather is expected to break from a weeklong pattern of above-average temperatures and low humidity with a cold front moving through Sunday. Colder temperatures, higher moisture levels, and a mix of rain and snow showers are expected.
But the front will also bring increased winds, starting with gusts of about 25 mph from the west and increasing to 45-55 mph from the northwest by mid-afternoon. The increased moisture could be offset by fire spread expected to be from high to moderate because of the extremely dry fuels and increased winds.
The largest 24-hour expansion of the Mullen Fire was on Sept. 26, when 70 mph winds from the west fanned the flames 33,000 acres across the southern portion of the forest.
The fire has so far claimed 65 structures and forced the evacuation of about 1,440 people in the large swath of Forest Service and Albany County closures in the mountainous forested terrain. The fuels feeding the flames are heavy timber (litter and understory) and significant beetle-killed lodgepole pine, with heavy dead and downed fuels, as well.
Firefighting crews, managed by a Southern Area Type 1 Blue Team, grew Saturday to 1,254 personnel and support staff, and containment also increased slightly to 21%. The fire perimeters are around the same areas as the past couple of days: the west portion of Wyoming Highway 230 in the Platte River Valley in Wyoming; Colorado Highways 125 and 127; and a portion to the west of Woods Landing.
More containment was expected in the next 72 hours in the southeast area of the fire along Wyoming Highway 230 and Colorado Highway 127. On the north side, firefighting crews were using roads and trails as indirect lines to catch the spread of the fire.
According to an update midday Saturday by the fire management team, “urgent and compelling indirect, alternate and contingency fire-line construction will continue in order to protect the Centennial community. Fire-wide point protection for all structures and other values at risk by specifically designated structure protection groups will continue.”
“Firefighters continued to look for opportunities to cut off fire activity north of Albany, with slow progression expected towards Centennial,” the release stated. “Crews were also focused on containing a finger growth above Woods Landing.”
A large fleet of aerial firefighting fixed-winged aircraft and helicopters continued to provide support with water and retardant drops, while ground crews are remaining in that area 24 hours a day to perform patrols and structure protection.
On Friday, the Albany County Sheriff’s Office released a statement updating the large evacuation area.
The following areas were changed from mandatory evacuation to pre-evacuation:
— Everything along Wyoming Highway 10, to include Woods Landing and Jelm to the south to the Colorado state line. Residents of that area are now able to access their property and residences, but need to remain ready to evacuate quickly if the status changes. A power company was doing assessments in the area to restore power.
— Wyoming Highway 230 will remain closed to westbound traffic near Woods Landing, and Boswell Creek Road will be closed where it enters the forest.
— All other closures and evacuation areas remain the same.
The fire management team also provides virtual community meetings at 5 p.m. daily, livestreamed on the Mullen Fire information page, https://www.facebook.com/MullenFire.
For current information on the multiple evacuations and pre-evacuations, visit the following websites:
— Albany County Sheriff Office (Wyo.) Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/Albany-County-Sheriffs-Office-618424944997540
— Jackson County Sheriff’s Office (Colo.) Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/JacksonCountySheriffOffice
— Larimer County (Colo.) website: https://www.larimer.org/emergency/emergency-information
Road status can also change quickly in response to fire conditions. Colorado Highway 127 and Wyoming Highway 230 on the west side of the fire are now open.
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 133,884 acres as of Saturday and was 44% contained. It is expected to be contained Oct. 31.