Fire continues march north
As seen from Little Horsethief Lane, a wildfire spreads through Wilson Canyon on Saturday as firefighters scramble to contain the blaze, reported around 3 p.m. south of Jackson. Trails, lifts and other mountain operations at Snow King Resort are closed due to the Little Horsethief Fire, which is burning less than 3 miles south of the town hill. Photo by PRICE CHAMBERS/JACKSON HOLE DAILY.View our entire photo gallery >>
By Emma Breysse, Jackson Hole, Wyoming
September 10, 2012
The Little Horsethief wildfire crested the ridge just south of Cache Creek around 6 p.m. Sunday, and fire managers told people living on and near Snow King Mountain to be ready to evacuate.
Firefighters planned a second all-nighter Sunday to control the wildfire, which had grown to more than 800 acres and also had sparked a 100-acre spot fire a mile from Snow King in Wilson Canyon.
The spot fire broke out when high winds blew embers out in front of the main body of the fire and they ignited a second blaze.
At press time, the town was not in immediate danger, Teton County spokeswoman Charlotte Reynolds said. If that changes, Reynolds said, the county would attempt to give residents a pre-evacuation notice before the actual order, similar to the one residents in the Game Creek area received Saturday.
Fire officials continue to update the fire’s relationship to Snow King, Cache Creek and other areas. They said the north flank of the fire was about 1 mile southeast of Snow King. Fire entered the Cache Creek drainage from the south about 2 miles from the Cache Creek trailhead. Retardent was being dropped to slow the fire.
The possibility that the high winds predicted in weather forecasts would blow embers onto the mountain itself had crews preparing for the worst-case scenario all day Sunday.
The U.S. Forest Service brought water trucks and equipment as high on the ski hill as possible in the afternoon, said Bridger-Teton National Forest Recreation Manager Linda Merigliano.
Crews from many agencies arrived to fight the blaze as helicopters and fixed-wing planes continued the battle from the air. Emergency management personnel set up a planning and command center at the Adams Canyon Fire Station. Fire engines and equipment remained at a makeshift base camp inside the Little Horsethief subdivision.
An interagency Type 2 team was expected to arrive Sunday night to lead control efforts. Type 2 blazes are too complex to rely on local control alone, on-scene fire control spokeswoman Lori Iverson said. Type 2 teams are qualified to lead control efforts on such fires, she said.
The blaze, which started Saturday near the mouth of Wilson Canyon, grew from 300 acres to more than 800 acres between Saturday night and Sunday afternoon, according to emergency crews. As of Sunday afternoon, it was centered in Wilson Canyon but also burning high on the surrounding ridges, according to the most recent map of the fire.
The risk caused officials to close most trails in the Greater Snow King Recreation Area. Along with Forest Service efforts, the resort filled its snowmaking lines with water, Merigliano said.
All through Sunday, firefighters con-centrated efforts on containing the fire’s flanks to keep it from spreading to the sides, Incident Commander Willy Watsabaugh said. Once the flanks are anchored, ground crews can safely work inward to quench the fire, he said.
Protecting structures and keeping the south Highway 89 corridor open and safe are the first priority for control efforts, he said.
One Jackson Hole Fire/EMS engine burned during Saturday night’s efforts when a stray ember hit the truck and ignited. The engine, Brush 18 out of the Jackson station, had a 1,000-gallon capacity. No one was injured when the vehicle burned, Reynolds said.
Watsabaugh, who also is Jackson Hole Fire/EMS chief, was the first responder on the scene when the blaze broke out around 3 p.m. He said he was pulling onto South Highway 89 from the Adams Canyon Fire Station when he saw the plume of smoke.
Watsabaugh confirmed impressions from eyewitnesses that the fire spread rapidly, scorching at least 50 acres within the first 20 minutes.
Saturday afternoon’s efforts successfully drove the fire uphill and away from the highway and businesses, he said. The fire briefly threatened Lower Valley Energy, along with an apartment complex on Deer Drive, as flames moved downhill toward the highway. Flames burned in sight of the highway through-out the afternoon and into the evening.
The fire’s future behavior largely depends on the weather, fellow incident commander Chris Vero of the Forest Service said.
With winds gusting to 30 mph and high temperatures predicted, crews announced a red flag warning for Sunday night, meaning weather conditions increased the risk the fire would grow.
Cause of the blaze is still unknown.
At press time, no evacuation orders were in place.
To receive text message alerts of any public emergency bulletins, sign up at Nixle.com. Updates also will be posted to InciWeb.org, which includes a map, and on JHNewsAndGuide.com. Click here for a map showing the size of the fire and closed areas.