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East Troublesome Fire Update and Possible Megafire Merger

The East Troublesome fire as seen from the air.
The East Troublesome fire as seen from the air.

The East Troublesome fire's incredible growth shows no signs of stopping. As of late October 22, the inferno was estimated at over 170,000 acres, making it the second-largest fire in Colorado history, behind only the still-burning Cameron Peak fire, located fewer than ten miles to the north. And at least one firefighting expert says it's possible that the two blazes could merge, creating a contiguous conflagration nearly 400,000 acres in size.

Grand Lake, Granby and Estes Park are among the communities under either mandatory or voluntary evacuation orders (details below), and Rocky Mountain National Park has been closed because of its proximity to the flames.

The federal Inciweb page dedicated to the East Troublesome fire, which sparked north of Hot Sulphur Springs on October 14, was updated the evening of October 22. At that time, the fire's size was approximately 170,163 acres, but it's almost certainly larger now. After all, on the evening of October 21, it measured just over 19,000 acres, but by the morning of October 22, it had exploded to 125,000 acres, and it continued to expand through the day. Current containment is put at just 5 percent.

Making the situation worse has been the combination of low humidity and brisk winds — and both conditions are predicted over the next 36 hours or so. At 3:37 a.m. today, October 23, the National Weather Service issued a red flag warning "in effect from noon today to 7 p.m. MDT Saturday for wind and low relative humidity for the mountains and mountain valleys," including at least six fire zones.

The alert adds: "Winds will begin to increase again this afternoon and especially tonight and Saturday. Wind gusts will likely increase to around 40 mph in the valleys by Saturday, with gusts up to 60 mph or more over the mountains and northern foothills. Relative humidities will plummet into the teens today across the mountains and valleys. Relative humidity slowly increases overnight, but recoveries will be poor. The existing fires burning in heavy fuels may lead to considerable additional growth today through Saturday."

The number of firefighters on the lines of East Troublesome continues to be listed at 295, but that's likely understated, too, given that people have been coming to help from neighboring states since the fire exploded yesterday.

Here's a map showing the impacted areas:

Note that some of the evacuation orders are mandatory, while others are voluntary.

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The Larimer County Office of Emergency Management lists the following evacuation sites: Westminster City Park Rec Center, 10455 Sheridan Boulevard in Westminster; the Isle of Capri, 401 Main Street in Black Hawk; and the Embassy Suites, 4705 Clydesdale Parkway in Loveland (which was reportedly full last night). Animal evacuations are being coordinated by the Larimer Humane Society's Animal Protection and Control team, which can be reached at 970-226-3647, ext. 7. Individuals needing housing for individual animals can contact sites that include the Riverdale Animal Shelter, Longmont Humane Society or the Humane Society of Boulder Valley.

Meanwhile, the Cameron Peak fire, which originated fifteen miles northwest of Red Feather Lakes, was said to have consumed 206,977 acres by the evening of October 22, when containment rose slightly, to 57 percent. But with the distance between that blaze and the East Troublesome fire shrinking, incident commander Noel Livingston told CBS4 that the two could meet. "It is a potential, and certainly this year has been one of those years where those low potential events seem to be happening with high frequency," he said. "And, you know, a fire of this size moving this far in October is a very low potential event in terms of what we would expect, and it’s occurred."

Should a merger occur, the result would echo the title of a book by Colorado author Michael Kodas: Megafire. Our 2018 interview with Kodas, "Four Reasons Our Wildfires Have Been So Bad and Will Likely Get Worse," has proven to be damnably prescient.

Current forecasts call for snow Sunday, October 25, into Monday, October 26, in the fire zones. That could help suppress the fires but not extinguish them. And until then, a lot can happen, as recent history has shown.

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