Grizzly Creek Fire at 25,690 acres, 0% containment; crews work to limit fire’s eastward spread
The Grizzly Creek Fire burning through and above Glenwood Canyon grew to more than 25,600 acres Saturday and remained 0% contained, as hot, dry conditions were expected to result in another significant expansion of the fire by nightfall.
On Sunday, 625 firefighters continued working on suppression efforts, according to the initial morning update from incident command.
Incident PIO Brian Scott said Saturday was an active fire day, mostly on the southeastern and northeastern sides of the fire area.
“If you look at (Friday’s) fire map, there were a couple of lobes where the fire dropped across I-70 and made its way to the south and east,” Scott said Saturday evening. “The updated map filled in between those areas, and there has still been some spread up on the northeast side closer to Dotsero.”
Interstate 70 through the canyon remains closed indefinitely until the fire danger subsides, and Colorado Department of Transportation engineers have a chance to assess damage to the roadway since the fire began last Monday in the median near Grizzly Creek. The cause remains under investigation.
“There are a lot of logs, rocks and other debris falling down onto the roadway from the burned areas,” Scott said.
The Union Pacific Railroad freight and passenger line through Glenwood Canyon also remains closed.
“We did allow the railroad (freight train) to go through at one point yesterday, but now we have a rock pile on the railroad tracks,” he said.
All of the previous evacuation areas on to the southwest, closest to Glenwood Springs, as well as those south and southeast of the fire, remain in effect, as do the newer evacuation areas to the northeast and east.
None of the evacuated areas are likely to be reopened for access until there is some level of containment, Scott said.
“The other big question mark is the weather,” he said. “Where we’ve had most of the winds out of the west these past few days, the forecast is for a shift out of the northwest and north. If we get a north wind, we really have to be cautious.”
The fuel is also different in those areas, including a lot of grasses rather than trees, that could make it more conducive for containing the fire, Scott said.
Holding the line
There was some encouraging news out of the southeastern side of the blaze near the Garfield and Eagle county line earlier in the day Saturday.
“The fire made several runs, but air tankers and firefighters were able to prevent an eastern spread,” David Boyd with the U.S. Forest Service wrote in a Saturday morning news release.
“Last night (Friday), the fire became very active west of Bair Ranch and backed under the I-70,” the release stated. “Firefighting efforts will include structure protection in the areas of Spring Valley, High Aspen and Lookout Mountain, and continued structure protection efforts in the I-70 corridor from No Name to Shoshone Power Station, Bair Ranch and Dotsero. Dozers will assist crews with line construction.”
Fire lines held in the No Name drainage on Friday, and a portable retardant base was set up near the No Name exit, where a large tank filled with fire retardant is available for air support crews.
“Large helicopters can come in, dip their buckets in, and take retardant back to the fire rather than taking clear water back to the fire,” Operations Section Chief Jeff Surber said on Saturday. “Retardant is a lot more effective at holding those edges that may not be worked by people in the future.”
Fifteen helicopters are currently working the Grizzly Creek Fire, along with 26 fire engines and a total of 553 people.
Winds expected to shift
On Friday, crews attempted to use fire retardant on the southeast section of the fire, but winds made that tricky.
“Our biggest problem (on the east end of the fire) has been that southwesterly flow pushing the smoke toward the Dotsero area,” Surber said on Saturday. “Trying to fly aircraft into that smoke column doesn’t work.”
The flow on Saturday was expected to shift more out of the northwest and possibly the north, which could allow crews on the northeast section of the fire to work that area.
“The wind should be pushing the fire back on itself there,” Surber said. “If that’s the case, typically the aircraft can work the (northeast) section of the fire much easier than the (southeast), because the air will be clearer, where the wind will be blowing the smoke away from the fire.”
Surber said teams were also looking to work the northeastern portion of the fire directly on Saturday, where hand crews walk along the edge of the fireline and put the edge of the fire out. On Friday, indirect tactics, where teams go in with heavy equipment and wait for the fire to come to them, were being used on the northeastern and southeastern edge of the fire.
Indirect tactics are also being used in the area near the Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park on the northwestern side of the fire.
“It is very difficult to put people in front of it with the active fire,” incident commander Marty Adell said on Friday. “So we have to use different tactics.”
In the residential area of Aspen Meadows, Lookout Mountain and Spring Valley — where evacuations have already occurred, teams are using both indirect and direct fire suppression tactics currently, Adell said.
A top priority among fire crews currently is “doing what we need to, as quickly as we can, to get the evacuated people back into their homes,” Adell said.
Pre-evacuation orders remain in place for the Sweetwater Road and Dotsero communities in Eagle County.
Interstate 70 in Glenwood Canyon has been closed since the fire started Monday afternoon; on Friday Independence Pass re-opened to limited vehicle access. Cottonwood Pass remains closed.
Vail Daily reporter John LaConte [email@example.com] contributed to this report.
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