American Fork Fire grows: Pre-evacuation order issued for Shields River Road

Jason Bacaj – Enterprise Staff Writer
Thursday, July 29, 2021
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Enterprise photos by Lydia Ely

U.S. Forest Service Public Information officers Trish Boles, left, and Rachael Gonzales, center, post information about the American Fork Fire at a parking lot on the corner of Wilsall’s East Clark Street and Elliot Street North/U.S. Highway 89 Thursday as an unidentified individual looks on. 

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Hay bales painted with the American flag on Elliot Street North/U.S. Highway 89 in Wilsall overlook Shields River Road Thursday. Smoke obscures the Crazy Mountains in the distance.

A change in wind direction Wednesday caused the American Fork Fire to spread west across the Crazy Mountains, triggering a pre-evacuation order for residences near the Shields River Road in northern Park County.

The winds helped the fire grow by nearly 50% on Wednesday. The blaze now covers more than 14,300 acres, according to a press release issued by the incident management team.

Park County Sheriff Brad Bichler said the fire turned with the wind, began traveling toward the Shields Valley and triggered the pre-evacuation order when flames reached a predetermined point. Bichler anticipates the fire will slow down today because of a weak front that moved into the area yesterday that brought in cooler temperatures raised the relative humidity.

“We are prepared to move forward if we need to do the full evacuation,” Bichler said.

Wilsall Fire Chief Gary Hoyem said there are four structures on Shields River Road. On Wednesday, his department sent two trucks up the road to provide structure protection, he said.

Hoyem added that the fire remains a long way from Wilsall — about 20 miles by his estimation.

The department has invited community members to spend an hour at the station on at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Aug. 4 to familiarize themselves with the fire trucks, pumps and radios just in case the volunteer fire department needs to call on others for help. Currently, the Wilsall Fire Department has about 15 active members, Hoyem said.

“I have no doubt that people will show up to help if we need it,” Hoyem said, noting the community chipped in about 10 days ago when a power line sparked two fires that got close to one house.

The U.S. Forest Service has posted flyers around Wilsall containing information related to the fire at several locations including the fire station, post office, the Bank Bar and a parking lot at the corner of Clark Street and U.S. Highway 89.

Management of the American Fork Fire is also changing hands to the Southern Area Incident Management Red Team, a Type 1 team that will assume command of the incident on Saturday.

There are five levels of wildland fire incidents, with Type 5 being the least complex and Type 1 the most complex, according to the National Interagency Fire Center. Right now managing the fire is the Southern Area Incident Management Gold Team, a Type 2 team that took command over the incident on Friday, July 23.

Public Information Officer Ray Butler, with the Type 2 management team, said the main reason for a Type 1 team to take over the fire is because they have more personnel, a broad reach and can handle more complex fires.