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Sheep Herder Hill fire

Smoke fills the air at the foot of Casper Mountain as crews continue to battle the Sheep Herder Hill fire south of Casper on Wednesday afternoon.

CASPER, Wyo. — Officials say they have counted 36 homes and cabins destroyed by the wildfire burning on Casper Mountain.

In addition, they counted 16 outbuildings destroyed.

The number of buildings lost is a big jump from the seven homes confirmed earlier this week.

"That represented a significant jump and that was primarily because they were able to get in and do a little more accurate survey yesterday with fire conditions kind of settling down a little bit," fire spokesman Pat McJunkin said Thursday.

The Sheep Herder Hill fire, about five miles south of Casper, has burned about 24 square miles. Some 400 people were evacuated since the fire started Sunday. Another 750 residences are on notice to be ready to evacuate should the fire increase.

However, firefighters have made progress in the past couple of days on containing the fire, McJunkin said. Containment increased from 10 percent on Wednesday morning to 50 percent by Thursday.

While there's no estimate on when full containment might be reached, some helicopters and air tankers were released to fight fires elsewhere. About 350 firefighters remain on the scene.

Some people evacuated by the fire earlier have been allowed to return home.

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But six people are using a shelter set up by the American Red Cross in Casper, and it is prepared to take in more, branch director Traci Aguilar said.

"We're getting into that critical time where people's hotel bills may be getting a little steep," Aguilar said. "People that are staying with family, patience may be running thin. So we're still here."

McJunkin said warmer, drier weather was expected to return to the Casper area over the next few days.

The bill for fighting the fire is an estimated $1.2 million so far, he said.

The cause of the fire remains under investigation.

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