SUBLETTE COUNTY – On Sunday, Sept. 23, changing, gusty winds and dry fuels turned the Roosevelt Fire into an almost uncontrollable inferno, with extra aircraft constantly dumping retardant and water onto new fronts that threatened homes west of Highway 191 in the Hoback Basin.
Monday morning’s maps showed the fire had consumed 48,348 acres since it was spotted a week earlier on Sept. 15, near Roosevelt Meadows and Grizzly Creek about 3 miles from the Upper Hoback trailhead.
With strong winds changing the fire’s direction several days, it then traveled west and later south toward Jim Bridger Estates in the Beaver Creek area last week and also through Hoback Ranches, which is several miles north of the Rim Station along Highway 191. Most residents evacuated last Tuesday.
Sunday, with fire behavior changing almost too quickly to control, evacuation alerts were issued for Bondurant, Dell Creek and Jack Creek roads, the Rim Station and Rim Ranches, Flying A and Cline Ranches on Packer and Miner creeks (and also for Black Butte, where the very small Moose Fire was discovered and suppressed by air and on foot).
Until Saturday, three structures were lost but the count went up Sunday as an unexpected blowup was pushed by northerly winds back through Hoback Ranches down behind Hoback Ridge, to the south end of the sprawling subdivision.
The Forest Service’s Type 1 Fire Management Team arrived to shadow firefighting efforts Sunday and took over administration Monday at 6 a.m.
“Firefighting operation will remain focused on structure protection and point-protection tactics,” said the Forest Service’s Sept. 24 update. “The Roosevelt Fire is being attacked as a 100-percent full-suppression that is the number-one effort within the geographic area and within the nation – firefighting resources have been made readily available to the effort.”
Sublette County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Sgt. Travis Bingham confirmed Monday that a group planned to enter Hoback Ranches to see whose and how many structures were destroyed on Sunday.
“The fire’s really been calling the shots so far,” Bingham said yesterday.
He said the subdivision is “still extremely dangerous” with spot fires and fumes from smoldering building materials.
“We’re working on it,” he said. “We’ll be the ones making notifications of anyone’s losses.”
Forest Service’s Type 1 team and Sublette County Sheriff’s Office met with just homeowners Monday night at the Bondurant Elementary School. A public meeting is set there for tonight, Sept. 25, at 6 p.m.
Firefighters and equipment also were ready to evacuate en masse Sunday night – both the Type 1 Incident Command base in Bondurant and the helicopter “camp” between the Rim and Warren Bridge. They were reinstalled Monday with the Type 1 Management Team’s activation as the leading fire suppression authority.
An intense smoke column from Hoback Ridge the previous day created a billowing black arc and an inversion that Lt. Guenther of the Wyoming Highway Patrol said had fire managers extremely worried, with a possible implosion that would scatter fire, embers and debris in gale-force winds across Highway 191. The Kismet Peak tower, essential for local communications, was invisible Sunday as smoke and planes bombarded hidden ridges and meadows along the highway.
Monday, the Forest Service reported that the fire came within a quarter-mile of the highway at milepost 34, and “might cross in the near future.”
The Wyoming Department of Transportation with the sheriff’s office and Forest Service had closed Highway 191 early Sunday afternoon all the way to Hoback Junction, only letting through people who lived below the Rim Station. It reopened around 11 p.m. Sunday night.
“People need to realize how much danger they are in,” he said Sunday. “If the fire crosses over the highway it could be anywhere in the next 3 miles.”
The Roosevelt Fire was held back to the west side of the highway and clearly visible along the Hoback Ridge for several miles as the sky darkened.
Monday morning, Sgt. Bingham said winds were reasonably quiet at the incident command base. But forecasts called for another “red flag” warning day for dry fuels and windy conditions from noon to 8 p.m. – the same forecast issued for the past week.
Resources were pulled from the Roosevelt Fire around 2:30 p.m. Sunday to attack a new fire called the Irish Fire, in Irish Canyon near the Big Sandy. Twenty-eight firefighters hiked into the rugged area to build a fireline and a Type 2 helicopter helped with water dumps. Monday, more resources were directed that way; Teton Interagency Fire reported it covered about 30 acres. Hunters and campers were evacuated and the road remained closed Monday.
Sublette County commissioners passed an emergency fire ban last week with severe restrictions as did the Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service for public lands users.
An interagency meeting for the public is at 6 p.m. Tuesday at the Bondurant Elementary School and then tomorrow night, Wedenesday, at a Daniel location to be announced.
Forest Service Type 1 spokesman Louis Payne will provide live fire updates over KPIN-FM 101.1 daily at 10:30 a.m. and 2 and 6 p.m.
For pending and current evacuation alerts, road closures and fire information, visit the Bridger-Teton National Forest’s Facebook page for the Roosevelt Fire. Updates are also posted daily at www.inciweb.com and www.tetonfire.com. Two other numbers are available from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. specifically for the Roosevelt Fire; call 884-692-5341 or 884-692-5334.