CASPER — Seven homes are confirmed destroyed by a wildfire on Casper Mountain.
Firefighters say the Sheep Herder Hill Fire is threatening another 750 homes. About 400 people have been evacuated from 150 homes. Three commercial properties also are at risk.
The fire has burned almost 24 square miles since it started Sunday.
Fire managers Tuesday announced that the fire had grown by more than 5,000 acres since Monday and now has burned more than 15,000 acres.
Jim Kalkowski told the Casper Star Tribune on Monday that the fire was close enough to his property that he could “feel the fire’s breath.”
The paper reported that Kalkowski’s son-in-law saw flames within about 100 yards of Kalkowski’s two cabins shortly before deputies told the homeowner he had to leave that area. The cabins and the Crimson Dawn Museum were missed by the fire by a narrow margin, although Kalkowski was unsure of the fate of other homes in the area.
Many Casper Mountain homeowners like Kenny Schneider have been left to relying on secondhand accounts of the fate of their home, the paper reports. He has employed his VHF radio to listen in on spotters and retardant bombers to get details about the fire.
“I was able to hear the spotters and the tankers doing their drops, and they kind of described some structures that we knew including our cabin,” he said to the newspaper Monday. “It sounds like the flames are pretty close to it. I’m a little worried about what happens tonight.”
Firefighters plan Tuesday to deploy more than a dozen aircraft against the fire, including two air tankers and seven helicopters.
More than 200 firefighters are on the scene and the number is growing. They hope to get help from calmer winds and cooler weather, but now have two fires to worry about.
Another fire measuring less than 10 acres has started about a mile north of the main fire.
What caused the Sheep Herder Hill Fire remains under investigation.
Horsethief Canyon Fire: In the meantime, the Horsethief Canyon Fire, which is burning just southwest of Jackson, has almost doubled in size during the past 24 hours.
That fire, which has caused the evacuation of 150 people, and required the authorities to deploy a type 2 incident management team, is listed as just 10 percent contained.
According to incident managers, 171 firefighters, and a variety of equipment, including retardant bombers are being deployed to fight the fire.
The cause of that fire still is listed as human, but the exact source of the fire has not been released.
Gilead Fire: The Gilead Fire grew little during the day Monday despite a wind gust of 65 mph recorded at a nearby ranch.
The blaze that still burns just west of Story is listed as 45 percent contained and has burned 5,909 acres. A total of 187 firefighters, more than a dozen fire trucks and four helicopters continue to work to control the fire.
Fire managers say that despite improved weather conditions, the fire still has significant growth potential because of wind and the extremely dry weather that persists across the region.
The cost of fighting the lightning-caused fire to date is $2 million.
The fire’s growth potential likely will not fall until after it burns out of the steep and rocky Rock Creek area of the Big Horn Mountains where it started, or until a season-ending event occurs, like a fall snowstorm, according to a report released by fire managers.
Elsewhere in the West: Firefighters east of the state’s Cascade Range scrambled to contain dozens of fires sparked by a weekend lightning storm. They were aided by diminishing winds late Monday.
In Washington state, Rain that fell in the Seattle area after a 48-day dry stretch didn’t make it over the Cascade Mountains that divide the state’s western and eastern halves.
In Wenatchee, about 140 miles east of Seattle, the self-appointed “Apple Capital of the World” had many residents worried about their homes. About 180 homes were evacuated Sunday. Some residents were allowed to return, while others were told to leave Monday, police Sgt. John Kruse said.
Crews arrived from across the state to help fight several fires in the region.