A fast moving grass fire destroyed multiple houses and outbuildings and threatened others Sunday evening along Cole Creek Road in Evansville. The exact number of damaged homes was unknown, a fire department spokesman said.
Emergency responders evacuated residents in the Cole Creek Road, Geary Dome and Meadow Acres areas, as firefighters struggled to contain the quickly expanding blaze, which began Saturday evening.
No injuries had been reported as of 8 p.m. An evacuation center was established on the third floor of the Casper College student union.
"This is a dynamic situation that is constantly evolving," said Natrona County Sheriff's Sgt. Aaron Shatto. "We ask the residents and citizens to stay out of the area due to the high number of emergency vehicles responding to extinguish the fire."
The fire appeared to have started at the City of Casper Regional Landfill before quickly traveling east, fanned by high winds that swept across much of central Wyoming, firefighters said.
A monitoring station at the Casper/Natrona County Airport recorded winds from the west of 45 mph, said Trevor Lavoie, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Riverton.
The high winds hindered efforts to contain the blaze. A command center established to coordinate response efforts had to be moved after the flames crept too close.
Conditions began to improve later in the day. A high wind advisory issued by the National Weather Service was canceled Sunday evening.
The calmer winds allowed a so-called "VLAT," very large air tanker, to drop fire retardant on the flames early Sunday evening, said Craig Kidder, a Casper Fire Department spokesman.
"It is still blowing hard, it just isn’t blowing as hard as it was," he said.
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The fire's exact size remained unknown by evening, Kidder said.
Officials received unverified reports the fire jumped to the south side of the North Platte River and asked residents of Meadow Acres to evacuate as a precaution.
Kidder did not say how many homes were being evacuated.
"This is extreme fire behavior," Kidder said. "Life safety is our number one priority right now."
The blaze drew firefighters from across the region, with departments from Natrona County, Casper, Bar Nunn, Evansville, Converse County, Douglas and Glenrock responding.
The rapidly changing situation stranded some residents.
When friends Scott Psannenspiel, John Hultman and Jeff Walker left their homes Sunday afternoon to get lunch, a small stream of smoke could be seen rising from the landfill. The friends found the road to their home blocked when they returned 45 minutes later.
Sarita Williams, a Blue Rock Road resident, was traveling home from her fiancee's at 1:45 p.m. when she reached the road block at Cole Creek Road. Williams had been on her way home to prepare for work. She watched the flames in her pink pajamas.
Initially she expressed worry for her step-father, who was at the house with two dogs. He eventually called to say he and the dogs had left the area and were on the other side of the fire.
Fire officials expected the Cole Creek area to be closed until 4 p.m. Monday. The blaze was about 50 percent contained by 8 p.m. Sunday night, said Bob Fawcett, fire marshal for the Natrona County Fire Protection District.