Fire near Lander keeps growing, more help arrives

2013-07-23T18:15:00Z 2014-01-03T20:41:07Z Fire near Lander keeps growing, more help arrivesBy CHRISTINE PETERSON Star-Tribune staff writer Casper Star-Tribune Online

Shelli and Jerry Johnson lost their cabin to a 2006 fire near Sinks Canyon outside of Lander.

The couple rebuilt two years later on a different piece of land one ridge over.

And then Monday night they watched it all again.

Flames engulfed the land surrounding the place they call their hideout. It was like a bad dream where they knew the ending, Shelli Johnson said.

“When you see Sinks Canyon, the place you love so much, up in flames, it was like a deja vu,” Shelli Johnson said Tuesday. “It looked like an inferno.”

The Fairfield Fire started about 11 a.m. Monday and grew to nearly 1,700 acres with none contained by Tuesday evening. Homestead Park, an area with about 50 structures including homes and cabins like the Johnsons’, was evacuated along with campgrounds in Sinks Canyon, said Kristie Salzmann, a fire information officer for the Shoshone National Forest.

No injuries were reported or structures destroyed or damaged by Tuesday evening. Winds Tuesday afternoon pushed the blaze more toward the west, farther into the Shoshone National Forest and away from structures.

About 210 firefighters fought the blaze along with heavy air tankers, single-engine air tankers and helicopters. More equipment was ordered Tuesday. A federal Type II Incident Management Team assumed control because of the fire’s growth in size and complexity, Salzmann said.

The cause is still under investigation.

Despite the fire’s progression into the national forest, fire crews plan to fully contain the fire instead of allowing some areas to burn. Portions of the area are dry timber including trees killed by the mountain pine beetle epidemic, said State Forester Bill Crapser.

Small fires often spark in Sinks Canyon, but few grow to this size, Crapser said.

The Johnsons learned after they lost their cabin in 2006 to not put anything of sentimental value in a cabin. They lost family heirlooms including skis and snowbikes during the first fire.

“I definitely think it changes your perspective when it happens once. We’re in such a drought in the West and are no different here,” Shelli Johnson said. “We have a lot of confidence in the firefighters right now.”

The Fairfield Fire is Wyoming’s first major fire this summer, unlike last year’s record-setting number of blazes. Wyoming’s heavy fire season typically begins in mid-to-late July and runs through August, Crapser said.

A 93-acre wildfire started Monday in the Sierra Madre Range of the Medicine Bow National Forest south of Battle Highway.

Called the West Battle Creek Fire, it spread slowly through beetle-kill lodgepole pines in steep, rugged terrain, according to a press release from the forest.

The Lost Creek Campground and Baby Lakes Trailhead were evacuated. The cause is still unknown.

The 250-acre Hardluck Fire is still burning in rugged, inaccessible terrain in the Washakie Wilderness. A three-person crew is on the south side of the fire. The rest of the blaze is being monitored by the air because of the difficult terrain, according to a release from the Shoshone National Forest.

Reach Open Spaces reporter Christine Peterson at 307-746-3121 or Follow her on Twitter @PetersonOutside.

Copyright 2015 Casper Star-Tribune Online. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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