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Fires in state force hundreds to leave region

Jul 3, 2012 By Ben Neary, The Associated Press

CHEYENNE -- Fed by bone-dry timber and fanned by hot winds, the four major wildfires burning in Wyoming on Tuesday have destroyed an unknown number of buildings and forced hundreds to evacuate.

The largest, the Arapaho Fire burning near Laramie Peak southwest of Wheatland, had burned nearly 88,000 acres by Tuesday morning, fire spokesman Jim Whittington said.

The fire was classified as 10-percent contained and has burned an undetermined number of structures as it has fanned out in rough terrain in the mountains near Laramie Peak.

"The real story on this fire has been the erratic winds, we've had this fire push north, push south, push east and push west at various times," Whittington said.

Whittington said fire managers are pleased with the progress that the nearly 575 personnel fighting the fire have made. He said local fire departments and officials have been particularly helpful in protecting cabins and other structures.

"We've got structural protection in place, for all the places that might be affected today and tonight," Whittington said. "We'll be very vigilant about that."

State Forester Bill Crapser said Tuesday that 300 structures had been evacuated in and around the Arapaho Fire.

Officials are paying particular attention to the west side of the fire, Whittington said. He said there's a possibility that the fire could move into new terrain where a combination of getting into a new drainage combined with the right fuels and wind could cause it to become extremely active.

"We're going to do our best to prevent that, but we have a lot of exposed line out there," Whittington said.

The National Weather Service issued a red flag warning for much of Wyoming on Tuesday, projecting gusty winds and very warm temperatures.

Conditions around most of Wyoming are extremely dry, Crapser said. He said logs up to 6 inches in diameter are showing moisture levels as low as 6 percent.

"My folks out in the field with 25 to 30 years of experience are telling me they've never seen anything like this before, as far as fire behavior goes," Crapser said. He said one worker took a video of a wall of flame perhaps 400 feet tall coming over a ridge at the Arapaho Fire.

The Oil Creek Fire, burning northwest of Newcastle in Weston County, blew up from 6,000 acres to about 20,000 acres overnight, Crapser said. He said it forced the evacuation of more than 400 people, including residents of the town of Osage, but had only apparently burned a single building so far.

Crapser said local fire departments, as well as some fire departments from South Dakota, have helped to battle the fire.

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