Fire crews keep 111 Fire west of Glenwood from progressing, traffic delays will persist

The hillside continues to burn after a fire broke out on the just above I-70 at MM 113 in South Canyon closing the interstate for multiple hours.
Chelsea Self / Post Independent

Fire crews have successfully kept a fire from growing after it forced the closure of Interstate 70 on Wednesday in South Canyon west of Glenwood Springs.

But motorists can expect significant traffic delays to continue along I-70 possibly into Friday as fire crews continue their efforts to fully contain the blaze.

“It is likely the delays will continue well into the evening, due to heavy commuter traffic,” a Colorado Department of Transportation release states. “Like last night, we are not recommending that motorists detour over Cottonwood Pass.”

A news release from the Bureau of Land Management on Thursday reported that no structures are threatened and that the fire is roughly 9 acres in size.

Numerous agencies including the Upper Colorado Interagency Fire and Aviation Management Unit and Glenwood Springs Fire Department responded quickly to the blaze Wednesday, with aerial units from the nearby Pine Gulch Fire providing water drops.

“We saw great coordination between local, state and federal agencies which made for quick and efficient initial attack,” said UCR Incident Commander Ryan Hughes in the releas. “That coordination and shared resources allowed us to be able to stop this fire from potentially becoming a large incident.”

On Thursday, 65 people, one helicopter and multiple engines continued working the fire. Firefighters aim to have the fire fully contained by the end of Thursday.

“Smoke may be seen, but is not expected to impact communities given the decrease in fire behavior and suppression efforts,” the release states.

Traffic impacts

The 111 Fire created a perfect storm for a traffic jam through Glenwood Springs and along I-70, Glenwood Springs Police Chief Joseph Deras said Thursday.

“We don’t have a lot of control over the highway and that’s largely regulated by the (Colorado) State Patrol,” Deras said. “But then we start to have the backup in town and we don’t have a lot of resources to start directing people through the feeding arteries onto the main roadway.”

Glenwood police don’t have a lot of control over what happens on I-70, but even in town, traffic control during closures put a strain on agencies which are typically focused on responding to emergency situations.

“We were helping dealing with the fire and they wanted us to help with two different exits on the freeway and at the exact same time we had a death investigation come out,” Deras said.

While the death investigation was ultimately determined to be unfounded, it still required the immediate attention of law enforcement.

“We just could not be everywhere that we needed to be,” Deras said.

In regards to photos and posts on social media showing people disobeying traffic laws, Deras said it’s unfortunate when people make those choices but that others should not let it dictate their own actions.

“Patience is really the virtue that we’re asking people to call upon here,” he said.

One tool that Glenwood Springs police has been using with greater frequency and effect is social media as a real-time communications system, Deras said. He encouraged people to follow Glenwood Springs police on Facebook, which can help provide guidance and information in similar events in the future.

“As we move forward and certainly since I’ve been here, we want to move to a more robust and active social media situation so people can go there and get informed,” he said.

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