CHEYENNE, Wyo. — Yellowstone National Park officials reopened a 7-mile section of road closed briefly by a wildfire but told visitors at the tail end of peak tourist season to expect the road to close again, depending on fire behavior, and to be ready for more long detours.
As of Wednesday, the Alum Fire had burned about 12 square miles and was spreading slowly through the Hayden Valley between Canyon Village and Lake Village.
"Now the weather is cooperating with us a little bit - a little cooler, a little moister. So we're not expecting anything over the next day or two. But that could change," Yellowstone spokesman Dan Hottle said.
Park officials were still making preliminary evacuation plans for Lake Village on the north shore of Yellowstone Lake. The fire was about five miles north of Lake Village and not an immediate threat to the area with a hotel, lodge, campground, hospital and gas station.
Thick smoke on Tuesday afternoon closed the portion of the park's Grand Loop Road between Fishing Bridge and a turnout midway toward Canyon Junction. The fire was about a mile from the pavement but flames could be seen from the road.
The fire eventually could cross the portion of the Grand Loop Road that follows the Yellowstone River, Hottle said.
Depending on the weather, he said, the road is likely to close again with little or no warning. Park visitors should be prepared to make very long detours through the Old Faithful area if they need to get from Fishing Bridge to Canyon Village, or vice-versa, he said.
Any closure in the Hayden Valley adds about 65 miles to that trip.
"It's probably going to happen 20 times before it's all set and done," Hottle said.
As long as the fire wasn't closing in on Lake Village, firefighters weren't attempting to contain it but were allowing it to burn for ecological benefit. Wildfires can help clear out dead and diseased trees and underbrush, encouraging new growth and wildlife forage.
Nine other wildfires were burning in mostly remote areas of northwest Wyoming. They included three other relatively small, remote fires in Yellowstone.
Wyoming's biggest wildfire, the Hardluck Fire, was growing slowly after burning 37 square miles in a remote area of Shoshone National Forest. Firefighters for the most part were allowing to fire to burn but began to build a line to keep it from reaching the South Fork of the Shoshone River.