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Cliff Creek Fire grows to 12 square miles


Cliff Creek Fire grows to 12 square miles, blocks Yellowstone, Jackson access

CHEYENNE, Wyo. — New wildfires have broken out on national forest land in western Wyoming while firefighters sought to check a growing blaze that has closed one of the highway routes accessing the touristy Jackson Hole region and Yellowstone National Park.

The new fires were discovered on Tuesday in the Bighorn and Shoshone national forests. Both are in remote areas.

The Arden Fire has burned about 350 acres near Shell Reservoir in the Bighorn National Forest. The Shoshone Lake Fire, which is about 57 acres, is burning west of Lander in the Shoshone National Forest.

The new fires are in addition to a large fire burning in the Bridger-Teton National Forest in Sublette and Teton counties about 5 miles north of the community of Bondurant. The Cliff Creek Fire has burned about 12 square miles and closed a 40-mile section of U.S. 191/189 between Daniel Junction and Hoback Junction.

That stretch of highway is used by about 2,600 vehicles a day during July. Many are travelers heading to Jackson Hole and Yellowstone via Interstate 80. However, there are several alternate routes available to travelers along I-80 that also lead to the region.

“Fortunately, there are other ways for tourists to get here,” Jeff Golightly, president and CEO of the Jackson Hole Chamber of Commerce, said Wednesday. “There hasn’t been an extraordinary interruption in tourism to Jackson.”

Golightly said local residents who work in the Bondurant area are the most affected by the highway closure because their daily commutes have been interrupted.

Bondurant is about 25 miles southeast of Jackson. Because winds are primarily from the west, little smoke from the fires has reached the Jackson Hole region.

The Wyoming Department of Transportation is using large signs along I-80 to warn motorists to take one of the alternate routes to Jackson Hole and Yellowstone.

“We’re trying to let people know in advance before they get there that that’s not an option at this time,” WYDOT spokesman Dave Kingham said.

Fire spokeswoman Ronda Bishop said strong winds that hit the fire Wednesday raised concern that it was too dangerous to reopen the highway.

“There is the potential for it to get back down to that section of the highway,” Bishop said. “We’re just trying to see what happens today with the high winds and the gusts to see where that’s going to go. One of the things they didn’t want to do is open the highway and then have to close it immediately.”

A second fire in a remote area of the Shoshone forest has grown over the past few days, burning about a square mile. Those battling the Lava Mountain Fire were focusing Tuesday on the east side of the blaze along Forest Service Road 540 and the private structures in the area.

The Triangle C Ranch and the Lava Creek Ranch were evacuated late Wednesday afternoon, with other residences west of the Big Diamond Ranch warned that they should have belongings packed, according to a news release. Parts of the Continental Divide Trail were also closed.