Wyoming wildfire destroys 29 homes, 31 other structures, blankets region with smoke

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CHEYENNE, Wyo.  |  A wildfire destroyed 29 homes and 31 other structures in a southeastern Wyoming forest and threatened to remain active for weeks to come, officials said.

Colo. Gov. Jared Polis said the fire is partly responsible for heavy smoke along the Front Range, including metro Aurora.

The fire in Medicine Bow National Forest about 100 miles (160 kilometers) west of Cheyenne has slowed somewhat since more than doubling in size last weekend. But firefighters on Wednesday expected it to keep spreading through dense, beetle-killed pine, possibly onto neighboring plains and into nearby Colorado.

More dry and breezy weather will keep the more than 150-square-mile (400-square-kilometer) Mullen fire active on several fronts, firefighters and other officials said. No rain or snow was forecast.

“We’re in this thing for the long haul,” Forest Supervisor Russ Bacon said in an online community meeting Tuesday.

The risk for the first time extended 5 miles (8 kilometers) south of the fire Wednesday into Colorado’s Routt National Forest, where officials warned evacuations may eventually be necessary.

The fire grew by about 20 square miles (32 square kilometers) from Tuesday to Wednesday and kept large areas of northern Colorado shrouded in smoke.

Medicine Bow National Forest in southeastern Wyoming has several small communities of recreational cabins. For days the fire was too intense for Albany County sheriff’s officials to get in to assess damage. But they were finally able to do so Tuesday.

They discovered cabins and other buildings burned in the Lower Keystone, Lake Creek and Foxborough developments. It was still too risky for homeowners to return, Undersheriff Josh DeBree said.

Mandatory evacuation orders were in place for the burned communities and several others, including Albany and Woods Landing. Wyoming Highway 230, which connects Laramie with Colorado communities including Steamboat Springs, was closed.

Officials continued to urge residents of Centennial, population 270, to be ready to evacuate if the fire spreads eastward toward Sheep Mountain and the Laramie River Basin plains.

In northern Colorado, authorities in Jackson and Larimer counties for the first time warned evacuations may be necessary if the fire continued spreading south into Routt National Forest.

About 900 people were fighting the fire, and over a dozen planes and helicopters were scooping water from the Rob Roy Reservoir and other lakes to dump on the flames.

The fire began Sept. 17 in the Savage Run Wilderness and has burned most of that wilderness and part of the North Platte Wilderness. The cause was under investigation.