Fire Closes Main Route to Yellowstone, Jackson Hole

Fire Closes Main Route to Yellowstone, Jackson Hole

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HOBACK JUNCTION, Wyo. (AP) -- A major route to Grand Teton and Yellowstone national parks remained closed Sunday because of a wildfire that grew to 500 acres in less than 24 hours.

Snake River Canyon remained closed to highway and river traffic because of the blaze, which forced three campgrounds to be evacuated.

Crews labored amid 85-degree temperatures, 30-mph wind gusts and 10-percent relative humidity in the canyon, which is popular with rafters, campers, hikers and anglers and tucked in the rugged Snake River Range about 20 miles south of Jackson.

About 60 firefighters were on scene and another 60 were requested to battle the East Table fire, burning on both sides of the river and only 10 percent contained.

"We had to shuttle all of our crews across the river to get them to the actual fire, and they're dealing with steep terrain and difficult conditions just to fight the fire," Bridger-Teton National Forest spokesman Jason Anderson said.

An air tanker and helicopter were helping ground crews with retardant and water drops.

The fire started about 4:50 p.m. Saturday in the area of East Table Campground and authorities believed it was human-caused.

"The only thing that would lead to that (conclusion) is a lack of lightning in the last few days," Anderson said.

The area where the fire is believed to have started was cordoned off and an investigator was expected to arrive later in the day.

The East Table and Station Creek campgrounds were evacuated Saturday evening. The Cabin Creek campground was cleared Sunday. Kiosks, picnic tables and other campground facilities were threatened.

U.S. 26-89 was closed beginning Saturday between Hoback Junction and Alpine because of heavy fire engine traffic and thick smoke which could be seen in Jackson. Rafters and campers were not allowed to use the Snake River along the same stretch.

Fire officials were consulting with Forest Service, Highway Patrol and state transportation officials about the possibility of reopening the highway by Monday morning.

"The goal is to try to open that as quickly as possible," Anderson said. "There's a lot of commuter traffic that services Jackson as well as a lot of tourist traffic."

Travelers from eastern Idaho and southwestern Wyoming bound for Yellowstone were forced to detour through Victor, Idaho, and cross Teton Pass or through Kemmerer to U.S. 189, adding hundreds of miles to their trips.

A fire command post was hastily set up at the Cottonwood Work Center about five miles south of Hoback Junction. A national firefighting team was expected to arrive late Sunday and take over management Monday.

Crews were attempting to escort some of the earliest evacuees back to the campgrounds to allow them to collect their belongings.

"The message (Saturday) night to the East Table Campground was 'Leave your belongings. Get yourselves out of here,"' Anderson said. "The fire was spreading so fast, and it was so near the campground. Portions of the campground were seeing spotting and fire activity."

Spotting is the term for burning embers floating ahead of the main fire and setting new areas aflame.

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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