Fontenelle fire still burning, keeping kids indoors

POSTED: 10:22 PM MDT Jul 03, 2012    UPDATED: 10:25 PM MDT Jul 03, 2012 
PINEDALE, Wyo. -

The Fontenelle fire in western Wyoming continued to burn Tuesday night. It's scorched more than 56,000 acres of Bridger-Teton National Forest, Bureau of Land Management, state, and private land since it started 10 days ago.

The blaze isn't as continuous as one might think, but has a "personality" of it's own, so to speak. As embers spread, flames pop up in different areas, picking off the driest fuels, like timber, first.

Those who live nearby aren't happy to hear that there's no end in sight.

Monstrous orange flames ate away another acre of land on Monday afternoon, and with it, Keegan Hankins' patience.

"You know, I have to stay inside," said Keegan, 6.

Monday was Keegan's first afternoon outside in more than a week. His Pinedale town is bearing the brunt of heavy smoke from the Fontenelle fire burning dozens of miles southwest in the Wyoming Range.

"The ash is visible," said his mom Heather Hankins. "You can see it on the hood of your car or on clothing. I don't want them breathing that in. It's got to be bad for their lungs."

Reporter Marissa Bodnar tagged along with Fontenelle Fire Public Information Officer Shelley Gregory for a drive through some of the 96 mile perimeter, to look out on black hillsides, smoke billowing from the tops of trees and crews mopping up hotspots.

"They're coming from all over the country, different agencies, also local volunteer fire departments," said Gregory.

The number of personnel climbed to more than 800 by Tuesday night. BLM Resource Advisor Mark Thonhoff said resources have been slow to arrive because of wildfires burning elsewhere across the country.

The biggest challenge, said Thonhoff, is the weather. But beetle-killed trees aren't helping either.

"They're drier, the fuel's drier and able to take over those trees much easier than if green and healthy," said Thonhoff.

Crews saved 11 cabins along this stretch by doing a back burn. Once fire came over the hill they lit from the bottom. It met in the middle, fighting fire with fire and killing the fuel.

"Right now we're going day by day and we'll do the best we can," said Thonhoff.

The Hankins family is also taking things one day at a time.

"We're probably going to have to spend the summer making adjustments," said Heather Hankins. "Get out in the morning when the air quality's good to play, then spend afternoons inside."

"Not watching TV," clarified Keegan. "Just playing."

Gregory said judging by the fire's behavior, it's unlikely it will threaten nearby towns.

The cause of the fire is under investigation. Gregory said it started near the Scaler cabins.