Fires in Evansville, Wyoming destroy multiple buildings


Fires in Evansville, Wyoming destroy multiple buildings


A wildfire that started on Saturday, October 10 in Natrona County, Wyoming was finally brought under control after destroying 12 homes, displacing more than 1300 people and killing large numbers of livestock and pets.

The origin of the blaze was in a woodchip pile located at the Casper landfill. A fire that started there seven years ago was contained before it escaped the landfill, but it took place during the winter, and there was no wind at that time. Since then, Casper city policy was changed to limit woodchip piles to a maximum height of 16 feet.

At around 6:20 p.m. on the evening of October 10, flames were reported coming from a woodchip pile at the landfill. Firefighters were on the scene in minutes and contained the fire but were not able to put it out. They stayed on the scene through the night as the fire blazed and died down. More than 300,000 gallons of water were used on the piles and fire trucks were stationed on the northern side of the landfill the next day as a precaution.

Despite firefighters’ best efforts, wind speeds increased to almost 57 mph by 1 p.m. on Sunday, and the fire was able to move to the adjacent brush, either via a burning ember or radiant heat. Casper firefighters called for backup from Evansville and Natrona County. The fire spread to Evansville Road, and thick dry brush, combined with the high winds and hot temperatures, allowed it to move rapidly toward homes. Emergency evacuation text messages were sent to those who had subscribed to the service, and fire officials started notifying residents door-to-door in the area.

A makeshift command center was set up at Yellowstone Highway near Cole Creek Road, and word went out that someone had cut fences along the road to allow livestock to escape. Families gathered to await news of the fire and about horses and pets, some of which had been rescued. The Red Cross offered clothing, food and shelter to anyone needing it and distributed cookies, peanut butter crackers and water. A Facebook page was created to inform people of the latest events.

The fire died down by early Monday, but high winds at midday picked it up again. Helicopters fought the blaze with water from the North Platte River. More families evacuated Monday, and residents were allowed to check on their livestock and pets with a police escort.

The evacuation order originally meant to be lifted at 4 p.m. on Monday was finally rescinded at 5 p.m. Tuesday after more than 50 percent of the fire was contained. Around 150 firefighters responded from departments in Casper, Natrona County, Evansville, Bar Nunn, Converse County, Glenrock and Douglas. Many of the them fortified the containment line, which stretched from the Casper landfill toward the border of Converse County and Quartz Circle in the area of Cole Creek.

By Thursday afternoon, the fire was 80 percent contained, and control of it was handed over to the Natrona County Fire Protection District. Hotspots were being monitored, and debris had been sorted through to prevent flare-ups. By Friday, the fire was completely extinguished.

As many as 190 homes were threatened at the height of the fire’s intensity, which brought it as far north as Court Circle. Fire crews cut down cottonwood trees along the edge of the North Platte River, in an effort to limit the fire’s spread. An air tanker was brought in to apply flame retardant to large areas east of Evansville. Ultimately, more than 10,116 acres were burned. Firefighters remained on high alert for any possible recurrences of the disaster, which is considered a high risk until the first snowfall.

No human injuries were reported. Some homes were left untouched while others were completely consumed. An unknown number of other structures besides houses were lost. Emergency Management Coordinator for Natrona County Stewart Anderson said it was the worst damage he had seen.

The total cost of the fire has not been estimated. A Federal Emergency Management Agency grant will provide for 75 percent of the costs of firefighting but will not provide funds for homeowners, who must rely on insurance and donations from the local community. Officials said volunteers and federal grants will help with cleanup efforts. Color-coded dumpsters have been distributed to help people sort debris from recyclable materials.

Casper officials have asked the Wyoming State Fire Marshal’s office to investigate the fire’s origin. Some residents complained about a poorly-coordinated response to the fire, but Casper mayor Charlie Powell said that he did not find any fault with the emergency response. Rumors that the fire began with a controlled burn were unfounded, although some video cameras monitoring the woodchip piles had been taken down for construction. Woodchip piles are capable of spontaneous combustion, due to the biomass inside. They also can ignite if metal accidentally goes through the wood chipper machine that feeds them and causes sparks. Currently, the public can bring compost or tree limbs to the landfill for free.

The city council in Casper recently voted to approve a $2 million expansion of the composting area, which will allow for a greater number of woodchip piles and wider fire lines between them. Cindie Langston, the Casper Regional Landfill Manager, said the piles may also be monitored for high temperatures and the woodchopper may be disengaged when there are high winds present.

A benefit fundraising event featuring a silent auction, car show and live music took place on October 24 at the Sonic and Sleep Inn in Evansville to support the families who lost homes. Donations were matched by Eastgate Travel Agency up to $10,000. Donations are still being accepted until November 30.

About Wyoming Magazine

Recommended for you

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *