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Fast-moving wildfire burning near Sinks Canyon State Park
A fast-moving wildfire, estimated Tuesday morning at 1,200 acres, is burning near Sinks Canyon State Park. This photo of a large jet dumping fire retardant near the fire was taken Monday evening from the home of Eric and Nikki Baker on Boulder Loop off of Squaw Creek Road.

Sinks Canyon fire hits 1,200 acres, still could spread

Jul 23, 2013 - By Eric Blom, Staff Writer

TUESDAY EVENING UPDATE 6:10 p.m.: The U.S. Forest Service now says the fire perimeter has increased to 1686 acres with growth seen on the western edge today.

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By Tuesday morning, local fire officials said they had corralled the wildfire burning 1,200 acres in Sinks Canyon.

The blaze still threatens to spread, however: U.S. Forest Service fire information officer Carl Jungck said he considers the fire to be 0 percent contained, mostly because of its behavior.

"Today they're looking to improve that," he said of the firefighters on scene.

A U.S. Forest Service employee first reported the fire at about 11 am. Monday, and the cause of the blaze is under investigation.

Moving east

From its origin on the northwest slope of the canyon, the wildfire extended east overnight to a spot about 100 yards away from the Homestead Park Subdivision and near Sinks Canyon Road.

Firefighters are using Sinks Canyon Road as a buffer, and the wildfire has not crossed south of the street.

The Homestead subdivision, U.S. Forest Service and Wyoming State Park Campgrounds in Sinks Canyon, and the University of Missouri Geology Camp were evacuated Monday afternoon. A press release stated about 50 buildings are threatened, and the road has been closed between the east entrance of the state park and Fossil Hill at the top of the switchbacks in the canyon.

Audrey Easton, who lives on Lander Mountain Road east of the fire's origin, said she saw the blaze spreading toward her at about 8 p.m. Monday.

"We could see the fire maybe one and a half, maybe two miles away, definitely coming down," she said, referring to a slope west of her home. "Fire trucks were coming down from Homestead Park and working on it."

Though she felt safe enough to stay at her home overnight, Eaton evacuated her three cats and two dogs and moved some valuables from her home on Monday.

If and how the fire spreads depends largely on the weather, Jungck said. If winds align with fuels such as cheat grass, sage brush and timber, it could be difficult to stop.

As they strengthen fire lines around the blaze, fire fighters will have keep an eye out for spotting behind them, Jungck said, since wind can carry embers past breaks and start spot fires that spread outwards and expand the wildfire.

Response

Jungck said firefighters are protecting homes in the Homestead subdivision high in the hills north of the canyon and are keeping the fire away from Sinks Canyon State Park, Forest Service and University of Missouri Geology Camp structures. Others are fighting the wildfire, Jungck said.

Working since yesterday afternoon, the 210 firefighters at the scene linked natural barriers using slurry drops from six single-engine air tankers, two heavy air tankers, two light helicopters, two heavy helicopters and a DC-10 "very large air tanker" to pen in the fire by early this morning, Jungck said.

In total, 35 engines from the Riverton, Lander Rural, Kinnear, Missouri Valley, Pavillion, Midvale, Atlantic City, Hudson and Fort Washakie battalions of the Fremont County Fire District and City of Lander Fire Department responded, Jungck said. They brought structural fire engines, large and small wild land fire engines, and trucks carrying thousands of gallons of water to refuel the other engines.

The Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Indian Affairs and State of Wyoming also sent firefighters to combat the blaze.

Firefighters from other parts of the country began to arrive Tuesday morning. When local resources are used up, units from neighboring areas are called in, then from the Rocky Mountain region and from across the nation, Jungck said.

He did not know all the groups now on the fire but saw the Fort Apache Hotshots arrive, who are based in White River, Ariz.

At 1 p.m. on Tuesday, a type-two incident command team drawn from across Wyoming, Colorado, Nebraska and South Dakota was planning to take charge of the situation.

A local type three team has been in command, Jungck said. The new team will be better able to handle complexities such as the many air units and the close proximity of the fire to structures.

A fire investigator was on the scene to study the cause of the fire on Tuesday morning, Jungck said.

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