By The Associated Press
CHEYENNE — Winds gusting up to 45 mph on Tuesday made life difficult for firefighters battling two wildfires in Wyoming, tripling the size of one new fire and collapsing firefighter tents at the other.
“The wind has caused a lot of problems,” U.S. Forest Service spokeswoman Mary Cernicek said.
Cernicek said the Fontenelle Fire — the first major wildfire of the season in western Wyoming — grew from about 300 acres to 2,000 acres on Tuesday due to strong winds.
The fire burning heavy and down timber in the Bridger-Teton National Forest is about 30 miles northwest of LaBarge. It was discovered late Sunday afternoon.
The strong winds grounded three helicopters that had been helping firefighters on the ground, Cernicek said.
“Helicopters can’t operate with 40 mph gusts; it takes away their ability to hover and it takes away the effectiveness of any kind of drops that they do because it just sort of dissipates,” she said.
With the forecast calling for more wind and hot, dry weather, fire managers decided Tuesday that they needed a more experienced fire crew, Cernicek said.
“We need a bigger team,” she said. “There’s a high growth potential for this fire just with the dead and down fuels that are in that area.”
In east-central Wyoming, strong winds blew down some tents at the command post for firefighters working to contain a wildfire burning in the Medicine Bow National Forest.
“Most of us are in yurts and they’re staked down pretty good, but they’re also getting rattled around,” fire spokeswoman Laura McConnell said over the sound of the wind buffeting the tent around her.
The Russell’s Camp fire has burned about 8 square miles since being discovered June 17. It is 45 percent contained.
“They’re trying to do everything they can to hold the containment lines,” McConnell said.
Firefighters had expected a challenging day because of the forecast that winds could gust up to 45 mph.
McConnell said the fire safety officer warned crews at the start of the day that the fire was “like a grizzly bear sleeping with one eye open.”
“The first chance that it gets to get up and move and start gaining ground, the wind will certainly aid in that run,” she said.
Fire lines were holding late Tuesday afternoon.