As ash from the Fishhawk fire fell like snow around Craig Kenyon's historic Absaroka Mountain Lodge Thursday night, he and his wife Carol prayed for rain.
On Friday morning a light mist was spritzing the dry landscape and Kenyon was hopeful that the cooler, wetter weather in the forecast may help stall the blaze burning to the south in the Shoshone National Forest.
"It was a welcome gift from God," he said. "We're supposed to get some good rain today."
Engine crews were posted near the lodge as the ash fell Thursday night, just in case firebrands floated across the North Fork of the Shoshone River and Highway 14/16/20. The highway is the route between Cody, Wyoming, 40 miles to the west, and the East Entrance of Yellowstone National Park. The road remained open, although drivers were cautioned that smoke may at times limit visibility.
Kenyon said the river and highway provide some comfort that the fire may not jump to the 18 buildings on his property.
"I'm glad it's there. I just hope it works," he said, noting that fires have been known to jump long distances and are unpredictable.
He's watched the blaze chew steadily closer over the course of the week — moving from 6 miles away to only 2 miles Friday.
"So we can go outside and watch it coming toward us," Kenyon said.
Fire crews have been busy consulting with landowners like Kenyon from Cross Sabres Lodge east to Blackwater Creek Ranch along the North Fork corridor, surveying the properties for possible brush and tree removal to make them more defensible.
"The Forest Service has been really good about coming in — the firefighters anyway — doing structure and landscape surveys should our lodge be affected," Kenyon said.
But he was critical of the agency's initial response, noting the fire that started Monday in the Washakie Wilderness could have been more easily contained back when it was less than a square mile.
"To me they could have addressed it earlier," he said. "It literally blew up in their faces. It's kind of a sore spot with me."
Although the wildland fire was quieter Thursday and slowed overnight, recent mapping estimated the size of the blaze at more than 17 square miles.
"The west, east and south sides of the fire are in steep, rugged terrain with dry, heavy fuels," according to the Forest Service's morning briefing. "Air operations have been a safer and more viable option for reconnaissance and monitoring of the fire."
A mandatory evacuation was issued Wednesday night for cabins and residences in the Kitty Creek drainage and Buffalo Bill Boy Scout Camp locate…
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The rugged, mountainous area includes several historic lodges dating to the early 1900s.
Elephant Head Lodge says on its website that its "restaurant, and the 'Trapper' cabin were all built in 1910 by Buffalo Bill Cody’s niece, Josephine Thurston, and her husband Harry W. Thurston."
The Absaroka Mountain Lodge's main building was "once owned by Buffalo Bill Cody’s grandson, Fred Garlow," according to the lodge's website. Both companies have buildings that are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Fire crews have finished structure protection work on private cabins in the Kitty Creek drainage and the Buffalo Bill Boy Scout Camp, which were ordered to be evacuated on Wednesday night. The camp has already closed for the season so staff were not present.
As a precaution, Kenyon moved his lodge's horses out of the area but plans to bring them back if the fire dies down. Although fall typically signals a slowdown in traffic to Yellowstone National Park, he said empty-nesters will visit during the next three to four weeks.
"We're still plugging along," he said. "It's just one of those things that comes with mountain living."
A community meeting was scheduled for Friday at 6 p.m. in the Yellowstone Valley Inn in Cody where fire personnel would be available to the public to answer questions.
The Rocky Mountain Blue Team, a management team overseeing the fire, has 173 personnel along with two air attack planes, two Type 2 (medium) helicopters and two Type 3 (light) helicopters at its disposal.
The team has also taken command of the 47-acre Stink Water Fire located 35 miles northwest of Cody. It is burning in steep terrain high in the Sunlight Basin. Air operations, smoke jumpers and hot shot crews are working to protect structures on private land.
The cause of the two wildland fires has not yet been determined.
As part of the Fishhawk Firefighting efforts, aircraft are currently scooping water from the reservoir at Buffalo Bill State Park.
Boaters on the reservoir are asked to avoid the areas where low-flying aircraft are operating.
Boating is not restricted on the reservoir at this time.
Additionally, the public is asked to refrain from using drones at Buffalo Bill State Park and the Fishhawk fire area as they pose a serious threat to pilot safety.
For up-to-date information regarding boating on Buffalo Bill Reservoir, please visit the Buffalo Bill State Park Facebook page.