For the first time since the Mullen Fire started nearly a month ago, there wasn’t a measurable spread in a 24-hour period for the perimeter of the burned area.
The massive wildfire in the Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest about 30 miles west-southwest of Laramie, which started Sept. 17, stayed at 176,371 total acres, with 34% containment, from 10:30 a.m. Wednesday to about the same time Thursday. The fire is expected to be fully contained on Oct. 30.
“The surprise rain, snow showers and blizzard-like conditions at higher elevations kept fire activity to a minimum. Despite strong winds (on Wednesday), the fire showed no new growth,” a fact sheet released at 10:30 a.m. Thursday stated.
The firefighting efforts for ground crews and aerial support with fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters are managed by a Southern Area Type 1 Blue Team.
“Much of the intense heat has gone out of the interior of the fire,” the release stated. “The heat that remains is scattered. Firefighters will be working (Thursday) to knock out this scattered heat, especially in the Foxborough area. Retardant will be applied to the area north of Albany to cool hot spots and prevent forward growth of the fire.
“Crews continue with suppression repair activities, including repairing dozer lines and fencing and chipping brush piles.”
Friday’s weather forecast calls for winds of 13 to 18 mph and gusts up to 30 mph, with temperatures between 45 and 50 degrees. Saturday will have a chance of light rain and snow showers in the evening, with winds of 12-18 mph and gusts to 25 mph.
The Albany County Sheriff’s Office released a statement Wednesday that Fox Creek Road was opened to local residents only. The public was advised to slow down and use caution with firefighters and fire equipment in the area and using the road.
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.
Virtual community question-and-answer sessions are held at 5 p.m. every day, livestreamed on the Mullen Fire information Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/MullenFire.
Seeking historical perspective
With plenty of attention focused on measuring the daily perimeter growth, some folks have begun working to comprehend the overall size of this fire and one nearby — both geographically and in historical terms.
Regionally, the Cameron Peak Fire, burning less than 30 miles to the southeast of the Mullen Fire, became the largest forest fire in Colorado history on Thursday. It has grown 29,180 acres since Tuesday to reach 164,140 total acres and is 56% contained. It started Aug. 13 and is expected to be fully contained on Nov. 8.
The Cameron Peak Fire surpassed the Pine Gulch Fire that burned throughout the summer 18 miles north of Grand Junction, Colorado. That blaze was fully contained at 139,007 acres on Sept. 15 — two days before the Mullen Fire started.
Before this year, the Hayman Fire in 2002, which burned 25 miles northwest of Colorado Springs, Colorado, and 22 miles southwest of Denver, totaled 138,114 acres to become the largest fire in the state at that time.
Suspected to be human caused, the Mullen Fire originally started in the Savage Run Wilderness. Shortly thereafter, it expanded through all of that wilderness and burned all of the adjacent Platte River Wilderness.
It was a culmination of the worst fears since the mountain pine beetle epidemic began to ravage the Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest. The beetle infestation was triggered by an extended drought in the late 1990s and early 2000s, according an information page on forest’s main website, https://www.fs.usda.gov/mbr.
After many years of lodgepole pine trees dying and falling, and at an increased rate, efforts to help clear those fuels have been ongoing since.
“The Forest Service and numerous partners work to reduce hazards in affected areas and to promote healthy forests in areas that have not been impacted (by the bark beetle),” the webpage states. “The Forest Service implemented numerous projects (fuel reduction and timber management) in cooperation with communities, municipalities, water conservation districts and state agencies (forestry and transportation) to reduce the impact of wildland fires and other hazards.”
But another dry summer that turned into a more parched start to the fall season, combined with heavy dead and downed fuels in extremely difficult terrain, caused the Mullen Fire to grow as fast as the winds took it.
The Mullen Fire is easily one of the largest single fires in recorded history in Wyoming, and the largest in recent history.
The epic fires in and around Yellowstone National Park in 1988 was a collection of 51 separate blazes (nine human caused, 42 by lightning) totaling more than 1.5 million acres, according to the National Park Service. The fires were initially not suppressed because of a then “let it burn” natural fire policy by the National Park Service. Although more than 10,000 people later fought the fires for the largest fire suppression effort in the United States at that time, they were stopped only by September snow.
An archival National Park Service webpage also mentions the Bighorn Fire in Wyoming burning 500,000 acres in 1876.