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Tiny town on evac alert for fire

Jun 12, 2012 - The Associated Press

Hundreds of campers had to evacuate, and Guernsey State Park remains closed.

GUERNSEY -- Residents of Hartville have been placed on alert for possible evacuation as firefighters continue to make progress battling a wildfire at Guernsey State Park in southeast Wyoming.

Authorities say the fire is about 20 percent contained after scorching about four square miles since Saturday.

Fire spokeswoman Beth Hermanson says the evacuation alert is voluntary and only a precaution to help firefighters.

"We're going to get the public in as soon as we can, but we don't want to put them in too quickly and then ask them to leave again," Hermanson said.

Jane Carlson, Platte County emergency coordinator, said she knew of about 50 people who have left their homes. Three shelters were set up in the area on Sunday but no one had used them, Carlson said.

The fire has burned on about four square miles of the park since Saturday. It is 20 percent contained. Hundreds of campers had to evacuate and the park remains closed.

State Parks spokesman Gary Schoene said about 600 campers had registered to stay overnight in the park when it was evacuated.

There were no reports of injuries, but at least one cabin was destroyed.

The cause of the fire is under investigation.

Six helicopters, including three Black Hawks from the Wyoming National Guard, were being used to dump water on the fire Monday.

"We're very appreciative of the Wyoming Air National Guard, they really came through for us on this fire," Hermanson said.

The use of helicopters was particularly effective because Guernsey Reservoir is right next to the fire, allowing pilots to dump their water and quickly fill up again.

"The turnaround time for the helicopters is 30 seconds," Hermanson said. "It's so quick, it's just amazing. The water is right there."

Hartville Mayor Darrell Offe and others watched the helicopters in action Monday.

"They put it right on the hot spot," Offe said. "These choppers are about maybe 2 minutes apart, coming through here dropping their load. They're pretty proficient at it."

Hermanson said the frequent helicopter water drops greatly aided the effort by some 300 firefighters to build containment lines on the ground.

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