CASPER — Crews have managed to contain about one-third of the wildfire engulfing much of Medicine Bow National Forest in southeastern Wyoming, a significant milestone in the nearly three-week battle against the blaze.
The Mullen Fire has burned through 176,213 acres and become one of the largest wildfires in Wyoming’s recent history.
Despite the progress, firefighters remain on the job, securing protections for buildings and homes and creating fire lines.
The fire slowed on Monday morning, thanks to precipitation and cooler temperatures holding over from the weekend. Nonetheless, wind gusts picked up throughout the afternoon, causing the fire to heat up, according to John Wallace, the operations section chief for the Southern Area Blue Team.
Fire encroached on Albany, a tiny town of under 100 people, when it spread along Fox Creek Road. But crews responded quickly, slowing its advance. Fire also edged closer to Centennial, a town of about 300 people northeast of national forest that same day. Firefighters continued managing the fire’s growth in the area into Tuesday.
“We have good lines in place and a plan for containing it,” Wallace said during a virtual conference held Tuesday morning. “Everything is moving according to plan.”
No growth happened in the northwest portion of the fire, due to snowfall at the higher elevation.
Containment occurs when firefighters install control lines around the periphery of a fire to stop it from spreading and burning more acreage.
Monday night brought cooler temperatures and humidity recovery, according to Kari Fleegel, incident meteorologist with the National Weather Service. But winds started up again on Tuesday morning, gusting over 35 mph.
Winds were expected to continue stoking the fire and posing challenges for firefighters on Tuesday.
A high wind watch for the fire area took effect at midnight on Tuesday. The wind could pose dangers to crews on the ground, with winds gusting to over 60 mph, Fleegel said.
The fire began on Sept. 17 in the Medicine Bow National Forest. About 1,079 firefighters are currently assigned to fight the fire.
A long stretch of dry, warm and windy weather has made containing the fire challenging. The fire spread rapidly across the national forest’s rugged terrain, devouring the dense vegetation and beetle-killed trees throughout the national forest.
Authorities initially said the fire was likely human caused but have not provided additional details. The cause of the fire is still under investigation.
On Sept. 30, the fire jumped across the state’s border into Colorado. Authorities have issued mandatory evacuations and pre-evacuation warnings for multiple communities in the path of the interstate fire, including Albany, Keystone, Miller Lake, Fox Park and Foxborough.
As of Tuesday, the fire has destroyed 65 structures and forced 1,440 people to evacuate.