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Squirrel Creek Fire: One Year Later [PHOTOS]

Trevor T. Trujillo, Townsquare Media

The year was 2012.  The fire began on June 30, it was contained on July 9th and was officially called “out” in mid-December.  By the time it was all said and done, the Squirrel Creek Fire had burned nearly 11,000 acres of land approximately 30 miles southwest of Laramie.

Now, one year later, the area is showing signs of improvement but are also presenting some new challenges.  ”Overall it seems to be coming back quite nicely,” says Frank Romero, Laramie District Ranger.  ”We have some invasive weeds we’ve been trying to treat.  We’ve been working along the major highways, like highway 130, we’ve been doing some spraying.”

Along with that, Romero goes on to say that grass as well as aspen trees are starting to come in to some of the burn area.  ”It’s going to be a few years before we see a lot of regeneration for the lodgepole pine,” he says.  ”But overall, the squirrel creek fire area is looking pretty good.”

The cause of the fire was determined to be human in origin.  Romero says the investigation into that cause is still on-going.

Here is a timeline for the fire that happened one-year-ago this week, supplied by a look back at our own coverage and from the recollections of Ranger Romero.   Followed by a slide show showing the fire as it was in 2012 on the fire line, and how some of those areas look now.  Also worthy of note, some of the maps and fliers used by incident command during the fire are on display at the Nici Self Museum in Centennial, WY.

Saturday, June 30th, 2012

Fire is reported at approximately 1:00 pm near the Squirrel Creek drainage of Medicine Bow National Forest.  The fire is initially worked as a “type 4″ incident.  Wildfires operate on a scale of “type 5″ being the least complex, “type 1″ being most complex.  Within the day the fire graduates to a “type 3.”

Resources from Albany County Rural Fire District #1 and U.S. Forest Service.  Red Flag conditions, beetle-killed timber and dry fuel in the area contribute to the fire.

Sunday, July 1st, 2012

The fire remains under “type 3″ management but a national incident management team is ordered.  By the end of the day, the fire will have spread to 7,000 acres.  Urgent Code Red Evacuation Notices are issued for all residents from Jelm Mountain on the south, north along Sheep Mountain and all the way to Highway 130. This included the west side of Highway 230 and Sheep Mountain, up to Lake Hattie.

Evacuation is handled under close coordination with Albany County Sheriff’s office and other law enforcement agencies.

Monday, July 2nd, 2012

“Type 3″ management team is still managing the fire, however the transition to California Inter-Agency Incident Command Team 4 under Rocky Oplinger begins.  A survey conducted by the KOWB News Center shows that nearly 27% of respondents are prepared to evacuate, another 24% say it’s “on the to-do list.”

Meanwhile, in Laramie, the July 4th Fire in the Sky fireworks celebration is cancelled.  A press release sent from the city manager’s office says that dry conditions and significant fire threat were among reasons that members of the city’s fireworks planning team felt that cancelling the event was in the community’s best interest.  Although there is talk of rescheduling the fireworks display for later in the year, the Fire in the Sky celebration did not make a return in 2012.

The evacuation area in the Squirrel Creek Fire was expanded at about 6:00 PM. According to the website InciWeb, a westward run by the fire caused the Albany County Sheriff’s office to order immediate evacuation for anyone within three-mile radius of Fox Park.

Tuesday, July 3rd, 2012

California Inter-Agency Incident Command Team 4 takes over “Type 1″ management of the Squirrel Creek Fire at 6:00 AM.  The fire is estimated at a size of 9,085 acres and by the end of the day is considered 12% contained.  Four structures are reported lost in the blaze, three out buildings and one home that was not a primary residence.  Firefighters establish Laramie High School as a base of operations, and several firefighters live in tents on the high school campus during the firefighting efforts.

A private briefing is held for residents of the evacuation area at an evacuation center established by the Red Cross.  According to notes given to residents, fire crews were able to establish an anchor point at Highway 230 on the southwestern flank of the fire. The notes go on to say that from that point, crews were able to establish hose lays and bulldozer lines directly along the western flank. The notes say that the establishment of these hose lays and bulldozer lines is a “significant success.”

Approximately 300 people gather in the Laramie Junior High Gymnasium  where an inter-departmental panel addressed questions from the public about the Squirrel Creek Fire.

Wednesday, July 4th, 2012

The fire burns actively and grows to 10,169 acres and is 51% contained.

Evacuation is expanded to include the Lake Owen and Dry Park vicinity.  Pre-evacuation notice is given for anyone within a 4-mile radius around Albany, Wyoming.  The Albany County Sheriff’s office says “The fire is moving in an unpredictable fashion.”

A survey conducted by the KOWB News Center shows that 78% of respondents agreed with the decision to cancel the Fire in the Sky Celebration.

Thursday, July 5th, 2012

Thunderstorms sweep through the area giving the fire a late-day run, increasing the size to  10,819 acres.  By the end of the day, the fire 55% Contained.  682 people are reported to be working on the fire.

Some Evacuations are lifted, including the areas east of Sheep Mountain to Harmony Lane, and south of Lake Hattie and also the area northwest of Lake Hattie to Hwy 130.

Another public meeting is held at Centennial school.

KOWB News Center is afforded a chance to be escorted to the fire line to take photographs.  (Those photos are available below.)

Friday, July 6th, 2012

Rain falls over the fire area and there is minimal spread.  The fire’s size will peak this day at 10,921 acres.  By the end of the day the fire is 75% contained.

It is announced that the Squirrel Creek Fire is believed to have been human caused.

Saturday, July 7th, 2012

More rain falls over the area and the estimated size remains at 10,921 acres.  Crews mop up the fire area as close as 100 feet from the fire line.  Containment of 95% is reached.

Sunday, July 8th, 2012 

Crews continue mop-up, gain 98% containment.  Fire remains at 10,921 acres.

Monday, July 9th, 2012

The fire is determined to be 100% contained.

Tuesday, July 10th, 2012

Management of the fire is transferred back to Medicine Bow National Forest’s “Type 3 Team.”

Wednesday, July 11th, 2012 

“Type 3″ management reverts to “Type 4″ management.  The fire is from this point monitored to make sure the fire stays in containment lines.

Friday, October 26th, 2012

Three months after it was started, the fire is classified as being “controlled.”

Thursday, December 13th, 2012

Officials for the Medicine Bow National Forest call the fire “out,” five months after the fire’s ignition.

Pictures of the Squirrel Creek Fire, Then and Now:

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