Response ongoing to grass fire west of Cheyenne, areas evacuated

Mar. 1—CHEYENNE — A grass fire west and northwest of town Friday, which initially burned a pillar of black smoke, has caused county officials to order two major sections of Laramie County to evacuate, and several homes were believed to be burned in the blaze.

As of 4:45 p.m., firefighters were still working on extinguishing the fire, which a family that lived along Horse Creek Road said started sometime between 11:30 a.m. and noon. Authorities asked residents along Horse Creek Road to evacuate and asked them to convene at the Tractor Supply Company store near Interstate 25.

According to scanner traffic, a firefighter observed substantial flames in the area of the fire at around 4:15 p.m., several hours after smoke was first observed. At least three helicopters were carrying large buckets of water to drop on the flames, with the last drop happening around 5:10 p.m.

Earlier in the afternoon, a structure fire call went out for Barberry Ridge, but it was unclear if there was one or more than one house burning. Later, a call went out for flames near homes on Water Line Road, north of Horse Creek Road, but it was unclear if any of those structures were burned.

Just after 3 p.m. Friday, authorities asked residents of the Happy Valley subdivision to evacuate, as well. An alert for the evacuation labeled the area as "within the boundaries of Boundary Road west to Happy Jack Road and north of Happy Jack Road to Dusty Road." "Need to evacuate now," the alert said.

Horse Creek Road, as it turned into Wyoming Highway 211, was blocked off to traffic while response to the incident was ongoing.

Wyoming Highway Patrol troopers and Laramie County Sheriff's deputies continually traveled beyond the blocked road to bring people's loved ones, pets and belongings out of the way of the fire. Authorities did this in lieu of allowing residents through the blocked road.

Several people parked their cars just east of the blockade on Highway 211, waiting for the ability to return to their homes or waiting on authorities to come back with their loved ones.

The Wyoming Tribune Eagle observed one family, the Nagy family — whose house was between Happy Jack and Highway 211 — be reunited with their teenage daughter, Olivia, and their dog. Two sets of troopers traveled to the Nagy residence, retrieving Olivia Nagy and their family dog. A trooper first arrived with the dog, and their daughter arrived a few minutes later.

Trooper Tyler Matheney confirmed that the blaze started as a grass fire in the area of Happy Jack Road.

A trooper confirmed to the Wyoming Tribune Eagle Friday afternoon that the fire, which had originated south of Highway 211, had jumped over the road and was burning north. The fire, according to eyewitness accounts, appeared to be burning both north and south. The cause of the initial black-colored smoke, which later dissipated, is unknown.

At 4:35 p.m., a news release from Cheyenne city public information officer Matt Murphy said evacuees were being directed to North Christian Church, 2015 Tranquility Road, where shelter was available, along with information about sheltering both small and large animals. Residents were asked to check in and provide their address there, and they may be able to receive updates on their property.

The fire's size was being determined, but is generally between Horse Creek Road and Happy Jack Road east of Road 109 and west of Roundtop Road (WYO 222).

The blaze was the second major wildfire in Laramie County in the past week, following one which broke out along Interstate 80 west of Cheyenne on Saturday. Friday's fire originated much closer to residences, and no areas were reportedly evacuated during last weekend's fire.

According to scanner traffic, Laramie County Fire Authority Chief Jason Caughey was commanding at least part of the scene during the response to the fire.

Samir Knox is the Wyoming Tribune Eagle's criminal justice and public safety reporter. He can be reached by email at sknox@wyomingnews.com or by phone at 307-633-3152. Follow him on Twitter at @bySamirKnox.