Fire in Medicine Bow Reaches almost 14,000 acres

CASPER (WNE) — A fire burning in the Medicine Bow National Forest west of Laramie nearly doubled in size on Sunday to almost 14,000 acres and prompted multiple evacuations.

The Rambler, Rob Roy and Keystone areas have all been evacuated due to the Mullen Fire, Gov. Mark Gordon tweeted Sunday morning.

On Saturday afternoon, the fire had moved to within a mile of 25 summer cabins near Rob Roy Reservoir, Gordon wrote in a separate tweet.

The Mullen Fire has grown quickly since it ignited Thursday. On Friday, it increased to 644 acres. By Saturday, that number had risen to 7,500.

“This is a major fire, folks,” the Medicine Bow National Forest posted in a tweet on Saturday afternoon.

Strong and shifting winds prompted crews on Saturday to pull back firefighting resources for safety reasons, authorities said. Those conditions also prompted officials to pull aerial resources from the fire.

In response to “extreme fire behavior,” authorities issued a closure order that covered much of the southern Snowy Range in Albany and Carbon counties, according to a press release from the U.S. Forest Service.

Authorities on Sunday told residents in the Centennial Valley to prepare for possible evacuations.

In a statement, the Forest Service said it was actively investigating the fire’s cause. Officials had identified the area where the blaze originated and found preliminary information indicating the fire might have been caused by humans.

Laramie man charged with exploitation of children

RAWLINS (WNE) — A Laramie man was arrested in Rawlins earlier this week on a slew of charges that could mean spending the rest of his life in prison if convicted.

Travis Wright, 48, was arrested Wednesday and charged with five counts of sexual exploitation of children, all of which come with a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and/or a $10,000 fine. This means Wright faces potentially 50 years in prison and/or $50,000 in fines.

According to a news release, Wright’s arrest was the result of a joint investigation involving the Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation’s Internet Crimes Against Children task force, the Sweetwater County Sheriff’s Office and the Rawlins Police Department.

The ICAC team is located in Cheyenne and is comprised of DCI special agents, a forensic specialist and immigration and customs enforcement agents. The team concentrates on the use of the internet to exploit children.

The agents are trained in undercover operations, as well as computer forensic examinations. The ICAC team was formed after DCI received a federal grant from the U.S. Department of Justice in 2000.

Child sexual exploitation can involve the possession, manufacturing or distribution of child pornography, online enticement of children for sexual acts, child prostitution or child sex tourism.

The case is still under investigation.

Wyoming gets $43 million federal literacy grant

CHEYENNE (WNE) – Teachers could soon have a few more tools to promote reading in their classrooms, as the Wyoming Department of Education has received a federal grant totaling $43.3 million that will be used to develop students’ literacy skills.

State education officials announced the grant, which will bring $8.6 million to Wyoming in its first year of eligibility, during a virtual news conference Friday.

Through the grant, teachers across Wyoming will be able to gain more training on the best practices to grow students’ reading abilities and identify skill gaps in the classroom. That effort will begin with the formation of a statewide literacy task force comprised of state and local school officials, which will be tasked with developing a statewide plan for reading comprehension.

“While elements of a literacy plan exist in our state, literacy improvement efforts in Wyoming would be more efficient if they were guided by a comprehensive plan that coordinated literacy services across early childhood education, K-12 education and teacher preparation,” said WDE Chief Academic Officer Shelley Hamel. “The state literacy plan will allow for that.”

While educators from every school district will have the chance to receive foundational literacy training, districts that have consistently struggled with reading scores will be able to apply for individual grants funded through the state-level funding, Hamel said.

The district-level grants can be used in a variety of ways to promote reading, including to form local literacy leadership teams, to buy evidence-based reading programs and to hire specialists.

Coronavirus prompts Law School to switch to online classes

CASPER (WNE) — The University of Wyoming Law School will be shifting all of its classes to online instruction after six students tested positive for COVID-19, the university announced in a news release late Friday afternoon.

Through Friday, Sept. 25, all of the law school’s classes will take place online. All faculty and students will be required to work remotely whenever possible and to limit contact with people they live with in an effort to stall the spread of the virus.

The six new cases are among 32 new cases of COVID-19 announced among UW students and faculty since the university’s two-week pause on its fall reopening plan ended Tuesday.

With last week’s cases, the university now counts 113 active COVID-19 cases, including 92 students living off-campus, five students on-campus and 16 employees living off campus.

According to a news release, 178 people are in quarantine after being exposed to the virus.

While public health orders implemented by Gov. Mark Gordon earlier this year to stall the spread of COVID-19 remain in effect, the number of active cases across the state have begun to spike in recent weeks. On Friday, Wyoming hit its all-time high in active cases and achieved its highest-ever 14-day average for new cases.

The news comes the day after a University of Wyoming poll showing waning support for pandemic restrictions, with fewer Wyomingites electing to change their behavior to help stall the virus’ spread.

Bear found near Rock Springs euthanized

ROCK SPRINGS (WNE) — The decision was made to euthanize an old, unhealthy female black bear discovered last week near Rock Springs.

Personnel from the Wyoming Game and Fish Department responded to a report of a black bear on the west side of Rock Springs near White Mountain Road on Sept. 15.

The bear was captured and taken to the Green River Game and Fish Office for evaluation. Officials said the adult female black bear was old and in extremely poor body condition. While it is unknown whether the bear received any food rewards, it likely wandered into town looking for easy sources of food, according to a Game and Fish press release.

Given the bear’s age, emaciated condition and the time of the year, it is highly unlikely that it would survive the winter, the press release said. The bear’s behavior around humans also indicated a very high likelihood of future conflict potential. Based on those factors, it was decided that the ethical and humane action was to euthanize the bear.

Game and Fish officials expressed their appreciation to those from the Rock Springs Animal Control, Sweetwater County Animal Control, Sweetwater County Sheriff’s Office and the Rock Springs Police Department for their assistance in capturing the bear and keeping everyone safe.

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