Hot, dry conditions continued to drive growth on several major wildfires around Colorado overnight, with forecasts indicating that there’s no end in sight.
Wildfires have grown in size and frequency over the past two decades, part of significant changes in weather patterns in America’s West as global temperatures rise due to fossil-fuel burning.
Pine Gulch fire
Updated as of 8:35 p.m.
The Pine Gulch fire exploded overnight Tuesday, growing 42% in size and by Wednesday afternoon it had burned 125,252 acres, almost 195 square miles, outside Grand Junction — becoming the second-largest wildfire in Colorado’s recorded history.
Residents on the northwest side of the fire were issued evacuation orders Wednesday afternoon, the Garfield County Sheriff’s Office said on Facebook. They include:
- From the Mesa County line north to the east/west of Colorado Highway 256 (Four A Ridge Road) including north/south CO 256. 256/205 moving from pre-evacuation to full evacuation.
- From Highway 139/Douglas Pass road east to the preexisting evacuation order for Carr Creek Road (207). This includes CO 205, Salt Wash and Kimball Creek Road (202) on Kimball Mountain.
- CO 258/King Road is evacuated.
Other communities remaining under evacuation orders include Roan Creek Road (CR 204) above Brush Creek Road (CR 209).
Everything west of Douglas Pass (CO Hwy 139) to the Utah state line will now be in pre-evacuation, the sheriff’s office said. Residents allowed to return home yesterday remain in pre-evacuation.
Both directions of Colorado 139 (Douglas Pass Road) have been closed between mile markers 6 and 39 due to the fire, the Colorado Department of Transportation announced Wednesday afternoon. The road stretches north from Loma, where it connects with Rangely. There is no estimated time of reopening.
Strong outflow winds from a thunderstorm cell overnight caused winds up to 40 mph over several hours, creating “extreme and erratic fire behavior, causing significant growth,” officials said.
“Fire behavior specialists report that the combination of extremely dry fuels, low relative humidity, high temperatures and terrain-driven winds may continue to create extreme fire behavior that is resistant to suppression efforts,” fire officials said. “There is potential for similar thunderstorm cells to pass over the fire area this afternoon and into the night.”
Wednesday will bring more heat and dry weather, with high in the low 90s and gusts up to 16 miles per hour. Lightning is possible — with no precipitation — and strong gusts could contribute to more unpredictable fire behavior, officials said.
The wildfire, sparked by lightning July 31 and burning north of Grand Junction, is now 14% contained, Pine Gulch fire officials said on its incident page Wednesday.
Pine Gulch fire is now second largest in Colorado history. The fire is now at 125,108 acres. #OneLessSpark
— RMACC (@RMACCinfo) August 19, 2020
Grizzly Creek fire
Updated as of 8:57 p.m.
The Grizzly Creek fire outside Glenwood Springs grew to 29,000 acres overnight — more than 45 square miles — as fire crews achieved 4% containment.
On Wednesday, firefighters and resources from the fire rushed about six miles south to pounce on a new wildfire, the Red Canyon fire. Evacuations were ordered for the Red Canyon fire, which started at about 4 p.m.
A massive response helped firefighters to limit the size and scope of the new fire which was under control by about 8 p.m. and the evacuations were lifted.
Resources from the Grizzly Creek fire that responded to the Red Canyon fire Wednesday included two helicopters, a single-engine air tanker, seven engines and a water tender. The Grizzly Creek team also sent firefighters to help battle the Red Canyon fire.
The White River National Forest on Wednesday announced a forest closure in the area of the Grizzly Creek Fire to “protect public safety and prevent interference with firefighting efforts,” according to an InciWeb post. The closure area is the forest boundary south of Glenwood Canyon north to the Flat Tops Wilderness boundary. The western boundary of the closure extends to about Adams Lake, and the eastern boundary is the eastern Forest boundary in the Sweetwater/Coffee Pot Road area. Forest road closures include Coffee Pot Road (FSR 600) and Transfer Trail (FSR 602).
The Grizzly Creek fire held Tuesday in No Name Creek, remaining at the top of the drainage, Grizzly Creek fire officials said in a news release.
Ridges near Ike and Spruce Creeks in the Bair Ranch area remain of significant interest, and as the fire gets closer, additional fire operations will be deployed to protect those structures, officials said.
There was minimal fire progression near Lookout Mountain, which firefighters had previously targeted for protection efforts.
Crews on Wednesday plan to focus on the completion of fire lines near Windy Point and above the French Creek drainage.
Much of Wednesday’s efforts, however, will come on the south side of Bair Ranch “where fire spotting potential remains high,” officials said.
Xcel Energy will be repairing power poles and infrastructure in Glenwood Canyon to the east of No Name.
Interstate 70 remains closed through Glenwood Canyon and there is no estimated time for reopening.
The Grizzly Creek fire started Aug. 10 and officials have not determined its cause.
Cameron Peak fire
Updated as of 6:18 p.m.
The Cameron Peak fire near Red Feather Lakes in Larimer County grew to 15,738 acres — nearly 25 square miles — and remains 0% contained Wednesday as law enforcement searches for information on the wildfire’s cause.
Work on containment lines north of the fire, to protect Crystal Lake and Red Feather Lakes, continued Wednesday and progress was made, said Beau Kidd, operations section chief, Wednesday afternoon during a briefing on Faceboook.
The fire on Wednesday crossed a section of Colorado 14 and worked down the Long Draw drainage, Kidd said. Structure protection work continued to be carried out along Colorado 14.
Fire officials said a little bit of rain fell on the fire Wednesday, just enough to momentarily calm it down, but the rain was not strong enough to provide any long-term help.
The southern edge of the fire gave crews issues Tuesday, with swirling winds preventing helicopters from being used, operations section chief Paul Hohn said Wednesday morning in a Facebook briefing.
“The way that a conifer fire spreads makes it very difficult, even with a highway and river and other features,” Hohn said. “When it spots, because of how high it can loft the embers, we can get fire in places where we don’t want it.”
Fire crews on Wednesday will continue to work on structure protection on the northern edge of the fire, including in the Red Feather Lakes and Crystal Lake communities, Hohn said.
The fire started Aug. 13 and its cause remains under investigation.
The U.S. Forest Service on Wednesday asked the public for photos and information to help its investigation. Officials asked specifically for photos of the fire from trails located south of Cameron Peak.
“The most helpful photos would be those taken of active fire adjacent to any of the adjacent trails, especially of smoke and flames located near these trails,” the Forest Service said in a news release.
Photos can be sent to SM.FS.email@example.com and anyone with other information can call 307-745-2392, option 5.
Williams Fork fire
Updated as of 5:57 p.m.
The Williams Fork increased by a few hundred acres overnight Tuesday, and now sits at 6,726 acres — or 10.5 square miles — as of Wednesday.
The fire was “fairly” active on Wednesday, but a bit or rain fell on the north side of the wildfire, said Mike Johnston, operations section chief, during an afternoon briefing on Facebook.
“It did help us a little bit on the north wing of the fire,” said Johnston of the brief rain.
An electrical power line and poles went down in the fire zone, but firefighters worked with the electricity provider and power was rerouted. Firefighters continue to work on containment lines and helicopter drops were used on some hot spots on Wednesday.
Crews have reached 3% containment, officials said on the fire’s incident webpage, as the wildfire continues to burn within its perimeter. Favorable weather conditions Tuesday allowed firefighters to make progress in controlling the flames, with the containment coming in the northwest area of the fire along County Road 30, officials said.
Wednesday’s efforts focused on protecting nearby infrastructure and preventing the flames from reaching private lands, as red flag conditions once again bring gusty winds, high temperatures and dry conditions.
There are no evacuation orders for residential areas, fire officials said. For Grand County emergency notifications, people are urged to visit gcemergency.com.
A large section of roads, campgrounds and trails on U.S. Forest Service land have been closed west of Winter Park and Fraser.
The fire started Aug. 14 and has been determined to be human-caused.
Click markers for details, use buttons to change what wildfires are shown. Map data is automatically updated by government agencies and could lag real-time events. Incident types are numbered 1-5 — a type 1 incident is a large, complex wildfire affecting people and critical infrastructure, a type 5 incident is a small wildfire with few personnel involved. Find more information about incident types at the bottom of this page.