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Midvalley fire crews knock down brush fire in Missouri Heights Monday afternoon

A brush fire that broke out along Garfield County Road 100 northeast of Carbondale Monday afternoon was quickly contained before it could spread into a thick stand of trees nearby, Carbondale and Rural Fire Protection District officials said.

Firefighters were paged around 3 p.m. Monday to the wildfire near 4482 County Road 100 and requested mutual aid from the neighboring Roaring Fork Fire District, which provided two brush trucks, a tender and crews.

The fire was burning with heavy flames in pinon and juniper as firefighting crews worked to stop the spread of the fire toward the west, according to a news release.

No structures were threatened, no evacuations were necessary, and there were no injuries, officials said.

The fire is believed to have started next to the county road, either by chains from a trailer or a stray cigarette butt, the release states. The fire is believed to be human-caused.

“This fire had huge potential to spread and was moving rapidly into a tight stand of pinon and juniper,” Carbondale Fire Chief Rob Goodwin said in the release. “The crews from Carbondale and Roaring Fork Fire did an outstanding job in keeping this fire from becoming much worse.”

The fire was contained to 1-2 acres and burned part of a private property fence.

During the fire incident, Carbondale & Rural Fire Protection District also responded to a two-car crash at the intersection of County Road 100 and Colorado Highway 82.

County Road 100 was closed from Highway 82 to County Road 102 for several hours due to heavy smoke conditions, officials said.

CDOT sticks with safety protocols during flood threats in Glenwood Canyon

A hot Sunday afternoon that saw temperatures top 90 degrees brought throngs of river enthusiasts to Glenwood Canyon, who were happy to finally have a weekend when they could get on the Colorado River.

Rest areas and recreation facilities along Interstate 70 in Glenwood Canyon, including boat put-ins, trails and the paved bike path, have been routinely closed to nonpermit public use this summer during flash flood watches.

While the boat ramps remain open to commercial rafting outfitters, they are not open to the general public during flood watches.

Over the past month, that has been more days than not.

The Colorado Department of Transportation announced Friday that it plans to stay the course with that safety protocol, following the intense flooding that occurred last summer when record rains triggered debris flows from the 2020 Grizzly Creek Fire burn scar into the Colorado River.

Whenever a storm is imminent and a flash flood warning is issued by the National Weather Service, the canyon closes completely, including to traffic on I-70.

But Sunday was about as bluebird as a clear Colorado day can get — and hot to boot. 

Caitlin Brosnan and TJ Tills were visiting for the weekend from Denver, and were happy to learn they could get on the river at the Grizzly Creek Recreation and Rest Area.

“We’re only here for the weekend, and we were fortunate they haven’t had a closure,” Brosnan said as they prepared their paddleboard for a float down to Glenwood Springs.

“We try to make it out here at least once or twice a year, and this is a big part of our trip,” Tills said.

Locals Erica Diemoz and Peter Heitzman were also getting ready at Grizzly Creek for the paddle downstream to Two Rivers Park.

“We’ve been going in at No Name more this summer, because we haven’t been able to put in at Grizzly,” Diemoz said. “I’m excited to get on the water for a little bit longer.”

Heitzman said they double-checked to make sure the Grizzly put-in was open by checking CDOT’s cotrip.org travel alerts website before heading out. 

“Sometimes the website has said it’s closed, when it’s actually open,” Heitzman said. “I’m just glad it’s open today.”

CDOT works with the National Weather Service and the U.S. Forest Service to stay on top of the daily and hourly weather forecast, so the agencies can decide when to limit access so that recreationists and motorists don’t get caught in a flood.

CDOT Region 3 Transportation Director Jason Smith said in a Friday news release that the agencies continue to assess the safety protocol in place for Glenwood Canyon and whether any adjustments need to be made.

In early July, CDOT met with the National Weather Service and U.S. Geological Survey to review closure data, weather forecasts, safety incidents in the canyon and other factors, he said. 

They determined the current protocol is the most effective at keeping the traveling public safe, Smith said.

“We understand the safety closures of I-70, the rest areas and recreation path are challenging for motorists and local communities,” Smith said. “Unfortunately, they are necessary to protect the traveling public.”

So far during this summer’s monsoon season, there has been little to no flooding in the canyon. But the rainy stretch of the summer isn’t over, and the canyon is still at a high risk for mudslides and debris flows, he said.

When it comes to staying on top of the various closures and whether a flood watch or warning are in effect, it’s best to go straight to the primary source, CDOT Regional Communications Manager Elise Thatcher said.

While the various county emergency alert systems will share closure information, those systems are forwarding information that comes from the National Weather Service and CDOT, she said.

“It’s best to check whatever weather forecasting app you use, because they’re getting the information directly from the National Weather Service,” Thatcher said.

Whenever a closure of the rest areas or I-70 is in effect, that will be posted to cotrip.org. Motorists and anyone planning to venture into the canyon should monitor that site for any changes, she said.

“We are receiving a lot of phone calls from people when those facilities are closed,” Thatcher said. “We hear your frustrations, and if we could change it, we would. But it’s a matter of public safety.”

With so many people using the various recreational amenities in Glenwood Canyon, from the bike path and trails to the river access points, it would be hard to evacuate everyone during an actual flood event, she added.

“There are a lot of people having a lot of different adventures out there, sometimes parking in one place and shuttling to another, and it’s very difficult to track them down in an emergency,” Thatcher said. “That’s part of why we’ve had to keep them closed so often.”

Sunday was a good example.

Colleen Pennington is the Glenwood Canyon Recreation Manager for the Eagle-Holy Cross Ranger District of the White River National Forest.

“On weekends, when the rest areas are open to the public, and even when they’re not, we’re out at the boat ramps tracking both visitor and commercial use,” she said from her post at the Grizzly Creek put-in on Sunday.

As of about 3 p.m., they had counted 115 private river users, just at Grizzly. Another team was at the Shoshone put-in, and another working with H20 Ventures at the Hanging Lake trailhead where access is allowed only by permit.

“It’s something our local commercial outfitters came up with to help prevent overuse of this stretch of river,” Pennington said. “We’re here as a go-between with the public and private users, and it’s a great way to interact with the community and see the different types of use.”

While there have been no major flood events this summer so far, the risk still exists, Thatcher said.

“It’s hard for people to understand that without the flooding like we had last year,” she said. “We just want to emphasize that it’s always good to have a plan B, just in case.”


UPDATE: Road to Crystal Mill, townsite reopens after debris cleared

UPDATE, Friday 2:20 p.m. — The road to the Crystal Mill and Townsite (Forest Road 314) is open again Friday afternoon following the debris flows earlier this week. “The debris has been cleared and the road is dry enough for us to reopen it,” White River National Forest Public Information Officer David Boyd said in a news release. The full Lead King Loop is now open for the weekend.

The U.S. Forest Service road accessing the popular Crystal Mill and the south end of the Lead King Loop east of Marble was temporarily closed earlier this week due to flooding impacts from monsoon storms on Monday.

The Aspen-Sopris District of the White River National Forest announced the closure of Forest Service Road 314 on Wednesday.

The closure affected the approximately 4-mile stretch from Daniel’s Hill (intersection with Forest Road 315) to the Crystal Mill where there were more than a dozen debris flows earlier this week, some as deep as 15 feet.

“We are hoping this will be a very short-term closure,” Aspen-Sopris District Ranger Kevin Warner said at the time of the closure, advising users to check the district’s website or call the office before attempting to travel the road.

Crews from the Gunnison County Public Works Department cleared most of the debris on Tuesday and Wednesday, but the road is still extremely muddy and susceptible to significant damage from vehicles, the release states. 

Forest Service Road 315 accessing the northern part of the Lead King Loop also had some debris flows but remained open and is passable with high-clearance, four-wheel drive vehicles.

Avalanche Creek Road (Forest Road 310) was also impacted by flooding. It is currently passable with most vehicles, but drivers should use caution, the release states.

For the latest information about this closure, call the Aspen-Sopris Ranger District, 970 963-2266 or visit www.fs.usda.gov/whiteriver.

UPDATE: WB I-70 down to one lane at Glenwood Springs Wednesday afternoon due to vehicle fire

Interstate 70 westbound was initially closed but was reopened to one lane a short time later at the main Glenwood Springs exit Wednesday afternoon due to a vehicle fire, according to a Garfield County emergency alert update sent at 2:17 p.m.

There is no estimated time for full reopening. Eastbound traffic is not currently impacted. Westbound traffic can still access I-70 at the West Glenwood Exit 114.

This is a developing story and will be updated.

UPDATE: Highway 133 south of Carbondale reopens after mudslide

UPDATE, 10:53 p.m.: Colorado Highway 133 has reopened in both directions after a mudslide closed the roadway for more than 5-1/2 hours Saturday night.

The slide occurred at mile marker 57 near Avalanche Creek, just north of Redstone, according to Pitkin County emergency alerts.

A heavy rainstorm was passing across the Crystal River Valley when the slide occurred around 5 p.m. Saturday. A flash flood warning was issued for the area.

Fire risk persists for Garfield County, West despite recent rains

Monsoon season started early in Garfield County and the Western Slope, but fire season isn’t over yet. 

“The early arrival of the monsoon patterns basically negated our wildland fire activity, especially during the month of July, which is typically a pretty active month,” said Gary Tillotson, Glenwood Springs Fire Chief. “So yeah, grateful for that, but it’s probably too early to get too relaxed.”

The number of red flag alerts issued for fire danger this year are so far lower than typical for Garfield County, but it’s a different story elsewhere in the state, said Tom Renwick, meteorologist in the National Weather Service.

“We have only had nine red flags this year,” he said.

Southwestern, lower elevation Colorado has seen 20-27 red flags this year, while there have only been two red flag warnings in Northwest Colorado.

The nine recorded this year were only in the region west of New Castle, while east of New Castle has not received any. Last year, there were 18 red flag warnings west of New Castle and seven east of New Castle. 

 The past few weeks have been more humid than previous years with 1.67 inches in precipitation recorded at Rifle Airport since June 1, in comparison to the average 1.42 inches, according to Matthew Aleksa, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Grand Junction. 

Precipitation for the year is still below average. Since Jan. 1, the Rifle Garfield County Airport recorded 3.91 inches, which is below the average of 5.63 inches, Aleksa said. 

“We are still in a drought,” he said.

Tillotson said that he had his fire restrictions weekly call Tuesday morning. There have been several fire starts in the last week throughout the Upper Colorado River area, which includes Eagle, Garfield and Mesa counties in general. He said that they were all caused by lightning and not people. 

“When lightning storms move through the area, multiple lightning strike fires can be started, and they can be extremely hard to recognize or find given the fact that they might strike a tree or something, and it may smolder for a few days until the atmospheric conditions are drier and hotter and something pops up,” Tillotson said. 

With the help of new technology, the fire department has had some help pinpointing smoldering fires from lightning strikes. Tillotson said that after a lightning storm moves through an area, an order gets placed to have a multi-mission aircraft from the Division of Fire Prevention and Control fly the general area with thermal imaging capability.

“They can help detect some of those otherwise unidentified lightning strike fires. That’s been very helpful in recent years,” Tillotson said. “The best strategy for a wildfire is early detection, and early and sufficient initial attack. Through that technology, if we can identify a smoldering tree somewhere on a hilltop with that thermal imaging technology and then get firefighters out there more quickly before it has a chance to grow or become a larger problem.”

Renwick said The Climate Prediction Center predicts roughly the next week will see an above normal chance for precipitation with equal chances in the next three months.

“According to the models in the Climate Prediction Center, it looks pretty active in terms of their storm activity and rainfall potential,” Aleksa said. “So more hope on the horizon, you know. We’re still looking like August is going to trend more towards above normal precipitation than below.”

Tillotson still wants people to be cautious and be mindful of particular ignition sources like charcoal grills and dragging chains.

“Just because we’ve had some rain and we haven’t …, at least within our Fire Protection District, … had any significant wildfire activity, I don’t want people to start being complacent. We still need to be careful with all of our ignition sources,” he said. “We just need to be careful with fire, and when it seems like it’s been rainy and wet, it’s easy to get complacent to stop paying attention.”

Two motorcycle fatalities within hours of each other in Garfield County Sunday, early Monday

Two people died in back-to-back motorcycle crashes on Interstate 70 in Garfield County, one occurring on Sunday afternoon in Glenwood Springs and a second later that night near Parachute, the Garfield County Coroner’s Office reports.

Coroner Robert Glassmire said he was informed at about 9:30 a.m. Monday that the motorcyclist involved in a crash on I-70 just east of the main Glenwood Springs exit (116) Sunday afternoon, Kelly Harless, 67, of Dolores, had died at Valley View Hospital. 

Harless sustained blunt force injuries to the chest, and was not wearing a helmet at the time of the crash, Glassmire said in a news release.

Glenwood Springs Police reported Monday that Harless was cut off by another eastbound vehicle around 12:45 p.m. Sunday and that the other vehicle, an SUV pulling a trailer, left the scene. Harless lost control of his motorcycle and crashed into the right side barrier, police said. Weather was also a factor in the crash, police said.

A second wreck involving six vehicles occurred about an hour later near the West Glenwood exit (114) when a motorist attempted to pass traffic on the righthand shoulder that was backed up due to the first crash. The driver in that incident was cited for reckless driving, and one person was taken to the hospital with minor injuries, police said.

At about 1:07 a.m. Monday, Glassmire said the Coroner’s Office was dispatched to another motorcycle fatality at mile post 73 on eastbound I-70, near the main Parachute exit. The wreck involved a motorcycle and a small moving truck. 

Clark Worrall, 30, of Grand Junction, was pronounced dead at the scene.

“Coroner’s Office investigators learned the decedent was seen by witnesses traveling at a high rate of speed when he struck the rear of a small moving truck which was traveling in the right lane,” Glassmire said in the release.

An autopsy revealed blunt force chest and neck injuries. Worrall was wearing a helmet, the release states.

Senior Reporter/Managing Editor John Stroud can be reached at 970-384-9160 or jstroud@postindependent.com.

Backup from one crash led to second wreck Sunday that closed I-70 through Glenwood Springs

Two people were injured, one seriously, in back-to-back crashes on Interstate 70 in Glenwood Springs on Sunday afternoon, leading to an hour-and-a-half-long closure of the eastbound lanes.

The first wreck happened about 12:46 p.m. roughly a half-mile east of the main Glenwood Springs interchange (Exit 116) when a motorcyclist who was heading east into Glenwood Canyon was cut off by another vehicle, a Glenwood Springs Police Department spokesman said.

The motorcyclist lost control and crashed into the guardrail. He was transported to the hospital with serious injuries, GSPD Sgt. Michael Prough said Monday.

The crash victim, Kelly Harless, 67, of Dolores, died Monday morning at Valley View Hospital in Glenwood Springs.

The other vehicle, an SUV pulling a trailer, left the scene of the crash. It was raining hard at the time, and weather was believed to be a contributing factor, Prough said.

While eastbound traffic was down to one lane as that wreck was being cleaned up, a second crash occurred about 1:43 p.m. when an eastbound motorist attempted to pass on the right-hand shoulder at a high rate of speed.

That resulted in a chain-reaction crash involving six vehicles, Prough said.

“Speed and weather were both factors (in the second incident),” he said.

A female occupant of one of the vehicles, reported to be in her mid-20s, was transported to the hospital with minor injuries.

The driver of the vehicle who attempted to pass on the right was cited for reckless driving causing injury, Prough said.

Five of the vehicles had to be towed, he said. No additional details were available.

Eastbound I-70 was closed at Glenwood Springs until about 3:35 p.m. Sunday. The interstate closed again in both directions through Glenwood Canyon later in the evening due to a flash flood warning. It was reopened about 8:35 p.m.

UPDATE: I-70 reopens through Glenwood Canyon following flood threat

UPDATE, 8:37 p.m. — I-70 has reopened through Glenwood Canyon.

Interstate 70 was closed in both directions through Glenwood Canyon Sunday evening due to a flash flood warning, according to a Garfield County Emergency alert issued just before 7 p.m.

The interstate was closed between mile-markers 116 (Glenwood Springs) and 131 (Dotsero) until the threat passes.

Around 6:30 p.m., Doppler radar indicated thunderstorms producing heavy rain over the Grizzly Creek Fire burn scar, reports the National Weather Service out of Grand Junction.

“Flash flooding is ongoing or expected to begin shortly,” the alert states. “Excessive rainfall over the burn scar will result in debris flow moving the the Glenwood Canyon area.”

Cross-state motorists should expect to be diverted onto the northern detour route via U.S. 40 and state Highways 13, 131 and 9. Local traffic is still allowed to pass between Rifle and Glenwood Springs.

“This closure is due to safety concerns,” the Colorado Department of Transportation advises. “The roadway will remain closed until the Flash Flood Warning expires and the roadway is inspected for slides or damage.”

For updated travel information, visit cotrip.org.

UPDATE: EB I-70 now open at Glenwood Springs after accident

UPDATE, 3:38 p.m. — Eastbound Interstate 70 is now open through Glenwood Springs, and the northern detour has ended, the latest Garfield County Emergency alert states.

Eastbound Interstate 70 was closed for about an hour and a half at Glenwood Springs Sunday afternoon, due to a wreck, according to a Garfield County Emergency alert.

The closure was at Exit 114 EB (West Glenwood Exit), according to the alert. Through traffic heading east was being diverted at Rifle to the northern detour route via state Highway 13 and U.S. 40.

Westbound I-70 lanes remained open.

An earlier accident Sunday also affected eastbound I-70 at the main Glenwood Springs exit (116). That section was closed briefly at 1 p.m. but reopened to one lane within five minutes. That was prior to the latest closure.

Heavy rains were passing through the Glenwood Springs area, but there have been no flood warnings issued for Glenwood Canyon. A flash flood watch remains in effect for the area, meaning rest areas and the recreation path in the canyon are closed.

This is a developing story and will be updated.