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An August 12 photo of the Grizzly Creek fire.
An August 12 photo of the Grizzly Creek fire.

Colorado Wildfires Update...and How to Get Around Them

All of Colorado isn't burning right now, but it certainly seems that way. At least four major infernos — the Grizzly Creek fire, the Pine Gulch fire, the Cameron Peak fire and the Williams Fork fire — have cumulatively consumed more than 178,000 acres to date, with the Pine Gulch blaze accounting for more than 125,000 acres of that total. It's now the second-largest conflagration in Colorado history, behind only the Hayman fire in 2002.

The impacts include an ongoing depletion of resources already stretched thin as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic; unhealthy, smoky air across the entire region; a tremendously negative economic impact; and transportation nightmares caused by multiple highway closures, including Interstate 70 through Glenwood Canyon, a major east-west route for the entire country.

In an attempt to aid travelers, the Colorado Department of Transportation is sharing maps and advice on how to get from one place to another when the typical routes are closed. The federal Inciweb system also offers comprehensive details on each fire, as well as links to more information. Here's the latest from Inciweb, as well as CDOT's detour routes:

Grizzly Creek Fire

Size: 28,030 acres
Start Date: August 10
Location: Glenwood Canyon
Containment: 4 percent
Total Personnel: 820

Current Situation: The fire held in the east side of No Name Creek, with heat remaining at the top of the drainage. Indirect fire line construction on the Transfer Trail was completed two thirds of the way to Windy Point. In the Grizzly Creek drainage, active fire persisted on both sides of the creek. Contingency lines are secondary lines of defense, in the event the fire progresses beyond the current perimeter. A contingency line above the French Creek drainage was also nearly completed yesterday. Firefighters established fire line from I-70 north to Coffee Pot Road and are feeling the upper part of the fire line will hold. They will continue to improve the containment line. The ridges near Ike and Spruce Creeks in the Bair Ranch area are still areas of focus. Firing operations occurred on Spruce Ridge to remove unburned fuels next to the dozer line. As fire becomes close to Bair Ranch, additional fire operations will take place to protect Bair Ranch structures. There was minimal fire progression near Lookout Mountain.

Today’s Activity: Fire suppression activity today will include the completion of indirect fire line to the top of Windy Point, along the Transfer Trail. This line is a contingency line in the event fire moves out of the No Name Creek drainage. Above the French Creek drainage, crew will also work to complete control lines. Scattered pockets of heat remain along the fire line from I-70 north towards Coffee Pot Road. Much of today’s efforts will be on the south side in Bair Ranch from Ike Creek east to Spruce Ridge where fire spotting potential remains high. Excel Energy is currently working in Glenwood Canyon to the east of No Name replacing power poles and repairing infrastructure.

The I-70 detour map from the Colorado Department of Transportation.EXPAND
The I-70 detour map from the Colorado Department of Transportation.

CDOT I-70 detours:

I-70 through traffic: CDOT recommends a southern detour route, due to construction on commonly used northern alternate routes. Drivers should anticipate additional traffic on these routes. CDOT has paused some construction projects in order to accommodate detour traffic. CDOT discourages travelers from using highways north of I-70 as a through route, due to construction zones (even if projects are paused during the closure).

Westbound I-70: Denver metro area motorists can travel on US 285 to US 50, and continue west to Grand Junction. Travelers on I-70 can use CO 9 to US 285 south to US 50, or use CO 91 southwest to US 24 to US 50.

Eastbound I-70 : Motorists traveling from Grand Junction can use US 50 east to US 285 and continue to Denver. Eastbound travelers on US 50/285 may also use US 24, CO 91 or CO 9 for destinations at or near Vail, Copper Mountain or Silverthorne.

One section of the Pine Gulch fire on August 19.
One section of the Pine Gulch fire on August 19.

Pine Gulch Fire

Size: 125,252 acres
Start Date: July 31
Location: Mesa and Garfield counties, eighteen miles north of Grand Junction
Containment: 14 percent
Total Personnel: 872

Current Situation: Extreme fire behavior overnight resulted in an increase in incident acreage of over 35,000 acres. Behavior included crown fire activity as well as long range spotting. an outflow boundary produced by showers near the Wyoming border moved southward over the fire area producing a rise in temperature from 78 to 90 degrees, wind gusts up to 40 miles per hour, and a rapid increase of fire activity. Pyrocumulus development occurred and resulted in cloud to ground lightning. 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. There is potential for similar thunderstorm cells to pass over the fire area this evening.

Planned Actions: Continue to scout to the north and west of the fire for contingency lines (Division E). Scout and begin prep work on Highway 139. Continue point protection and implement firing operations along the 204 Road in Divisions K and E as needed. Continue to hold and improve completed lines in Divisions A, Z. Continue to prep contingency lines in Divisions F and L. Patrol and support burnout operations in Division K. Monitor and patrol containment lines and implement firing operations as needed to protect containment lines or structures. Continue Structure protection assessments.

Projected Incident Activity: There is potential for thunderstorm cells to pass over the fire area this evening similar to what was experienced last night. This has the potential to result in extreme and erratic fire behavior (crown fire and long-range spotting).

CDOT transportation note: Colorado Highway 139 (Douglas Pass) is closed due to fire activity from the Pine Gulch Fire. The closure is north of Loma (Fruita/Grand Junction) and between Mile Point 6 and MP 39. There is no anticipated time for reopening.... CDOT recommends traveling on CO 9 or CO 131 to access US Highway 40, or to travel in reverse from NW Colorado to points south or the recommended detour around the I-70 closure. CDOT advises commercial traffic to use CO 9 instead of CO 131, for safety purposes. Please note that while CO 13 is open at this time, it is not a recommended detour due to construction. Oversize commercial vehicles are not allowed on CO 13 due to construction restrictions.

A panoramic shot of the Cameron Peak fire from August 16.
A panoramic shot of the Cameron Peak fire from August 16.

Cameron Peak Fire

Size: 15,738 acres
Start Date: August 13
Location: Arapahoe and Roosevelt National Forests near Cameron Pass and Chambers Lake
Containment: 0 percent
Total Personnel: 502

Incident Overview: The Cameron Peak fire...is burning in heavy timber stands over rugged terrain. Hot, dry, windy weather, combined with critically dry fuels has been driving rapid fire growth. The Type 2 Rocky Mountain Incident Management Blue Team assumed command of the fire at 6:00 a.m. August 15.

Significant Events: Extreme, short crown runs, long-range spotting

Planned Actions: Extensive structure protection. Indirect suppression activities.

Weather Concerns: Today was partly cloudy with a high temperature of 80 and a minimum humidity of 13 percent. Winds were out of the North from 10-15 mph, gusting to 20 mph. There were a few virga showers around that created gusty winds, but measurable precipitation was not received on the fire. Northwest winds from 10-20 mph are expected tomorrow with a high temperature in the upper 70s and minimum humidity ranging from 20-30 percent. A Fire Weather Watch has been issued for Wednesday as well for dry thunderstorms and associated gusty winds. Northerly winds from 10-20 mph will continue on Thursday with another chance of isolated thunderstorms. Highs will be in the upper 70s and minimum humidity will range from 20-30 percent.

CDOT's suggested detour related to Colorado Highway 14.
CDOT's suggested detour related to Colorado Highway 14.

CDOT transportation note: Colorado Highway 14 is closed from west of Cameron Pass and Walden (Mile Point 61) for eastbound traffic and at Rustic and County Road 69 (MP 91) for westbound traffic due to the Cameron Peak wildfire. CDOT recommends detouring north on US Highway 287 or Interstate 25 to Laramie, Wyoming, and then traveling on Wyoming Highway 230 to Walden, Colo.

This Cameron Peak fire order contains the current list of National Forest Service roads, trails and areas closed because of the blaze.

An August 15 look at the Williams Fork fire.
An August 15 look at the Williams Fork fire.

Williams Fork Fire

Size: 9,457 acres
Start Date: August 14
Location: Fifteen miles southwest of Fraser
Containment: 3 percent
Total Personnel: 226

Incident overview: The Williams Fork Fire increased in size by only a few hundred acres yesterday as it spotted over Darling Creek to the south by approximately a half-mile. The fire also continued to burn within its perimeter. A small smoke column could be seen over the fire as weather conditions allowed firefighters to make progress in containing the fire. Overall, the fire is 6726 acres and 3% contained with this containment taking place in the northwest area of the fire along County Road 30. The Great Basin Type 1 Incident Management Team 2 assumed command of the fire on Tuesday at 8 p.m.

Today’s focus is on holding and containing the south and southeast sides of the fire. A favorable weather forecast could help the effort by providing wetting rains, which would allow fire managers to strengthen and increase some containment lines.

CDOT transportation note: The Williams Fork Fire in Grand County is burning near US Highway 40 and Colorado Highway 9, north of I-70, but is not impacting state highways at this time.

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