GUERNSEY--A fire that officials are calling “man-made” sparked a wildfire in Guernsey State Park and beyond on Saturday afternoon, shutting down the park and prompting residential evacuations in several areas. Cause of the fire is currently under investigation.
The fire originated in an area known to locals as Kelly Park along the west side of the North Platte River and north of Highway 26.
Heavy black smoke was seen by several residents along the south entrance roadway to the park and the fire was called in immediately.
With high winds that changed direction several times, firefighters were quickly behind and the flames spread out of the river canyon and up across the park headquarters area. Several homes were threatened but no damage or losses were incurred in that area. From there the flames spread south and west and park rangers began evacuation of the park at Sandy Beach.
Nearly 600 park visitors were evacuated through two routes from the beach area in about an hour. Some had to leave campers and other items. They were later allowed to retrieve them.
By dark, the fire had turned and was bearing down on the houses along and behind the south (main) park entrance road. Crews and residents worked to keep homes sprayed down but were eventually forced to leave as well.
Tim and Sharon Newton, who have a new log cabin home in the area, said they felt the efforts especially of the Hartville fire crews were the reason their home was saved. “They were great,” said Tim. “We were told to evacuate but we chose to stay and keep watering. The Hartville crew showed up and told us we should go so we did.” Newton said the heat got so intense the fire crew was also forced to leave. “This was a miracle,” said Sharon, looking around at their property. “There’s just no other word.”
By Sumday, the fire had grown substantially, primarily due to high winds. More crews were called in and by afternoon, the fire had burned back north on the west side of the park beyond Brimmer Point. During that part of the burn, officials believe the fire jumped across the lake channel to the east due to the excessive winds, reported to be as high as 65 m.p.h. gusts and steady at 35-40 m.p.h.
Once the fire jumped, it burned rapidly east, putting property on Pleasant Valley Road at risk. Officials called for evacuation of all residents on that road around 3:30 p.m. Additionally, the Town of Hartville was put on evacuation notice and residents began leaving but were later allowed to return to their homes in Hartville. With the exception of one section between the Gary Lewis property and the Mark Walker property, Pleasant Valley residents were allowed to return Monday morning, but by 11 a.m., officials told residents they could stay but the entire road would again be closed and they would not be allowed to leave. Late Monday afternoon, Platte County Sheriff Steve Keigley said he hoped the Pleasant Valley residents would choose to remain elsewhere because the containment is still low enough in the area to possibly prompt another evacuation. “I’d rather see folks stay out for an extra day than for them to have to evacuate a second time.”
Smoke has been an issue for many people, particularly the very young and those older. One Pleasant Valley man was taken to Platte County Memorial Hospital for treatment after his blood pressure was deemed dangerously high. He was treated and released the same day.
Families with children who have breathing problems have also opted to leave despite the fact that the town of Guernsey was not officially required to evacuate. Informational notices were distributed Sunday afternoon and evening to provide residents the basic rules to follow when packing and information about where to go for transportation and shelter should they actually be evacuated.
The fire has been placed under the jurisdiction of the Rocky Mountain Incident Management Team C, Joe Lowe, Incident Commander, who assumed command of the Guernsey Fire on Sunday, June 10 at 6 p.m.
A Guernsey Fire Complex has been established which includes The Cow Camp Fire and the Guernsey Fire which is under the Management of Rocky Mountain Team C.
The Incident Command Post has been relocated to Camp Guernsey.
In the most recent update published by the Rocky Mountain Incident Management Team at 8:30 p.m. Monday, the fire was estimated to be 2,835 acres based on a survey done on the perimeter, with about 20 percent containment.
The Incident Command has set up a public meeting for Tuesday, June 12 at 7 p.m. at the Guernsey-Sunrise Schools to brief the community members about the fire and answer any questions local residents may have. Signs at the school will designate the specific meeting room.
Guernsey State Park has been closed to all visitors until further notice. For any questions regarding the closure of the State Park please call 307-631-8152.
A Fire Information Hot Line for the Guernsey Fire is 1-720-326-2218. You may also go to the Wyoming State Forestry Division’s Fire Information at: https://sites.google.com/a/wyo.gov/wsfd-fire-information