Gov. Polis: Best realistic case to reopen I-70 is 2-3 days as crews battle Grizzly Creek Fire

Governor visits incident command in Eagle, says 'Literally the fire is right on I-70'

Nate Peterson
Vail Daily
Colorado Gov. Jared Polis speaks to the media for updates on the Grizzly Creek Fire Friday at the Eagle County Fairgrounds in Eagle. The fire is now more than 14,000 acres and 1 percent containment.
Christopher Dillman/Vail Daily

EAGLE — Gov. Jared Polis on Friday said he’s optimistic that Interstate 70 will be able to reopen in two to three days as crews continue to battle the Grizzly Creek Fire along the state’s main east-west artery.

Polis made his remarks after meeting with the fire’s incident command team at the Eagle County Fairgrounds.

“Literally the fire is right on I-70,” Polis said. “They’re doing their best and so far they have been successful in having one lane open for emergency access of fire vehicles and firefighting supplies and personnel. But literally the flames are right on the edge of the highway. The best realistic case would be two to three days. But it’s really a question of when it’s no longer right on the highway. But I want people to know this is a closure for the reason that literally the fire is right on highway 70 in several places.”

The interstate has been shut down in both directions since Monday afternoon when the blaze broke out in the median of the interstate near the Grizzly Creek recreation area about 1:30 p.m.

The incident command team, headed by Marty Adell, reported the fire doubled in size overnight into Friday, reaching 14, 663 acres. The blaze remains the top priority wildfire in the country because of the I-70 shutdown, which has strained local and regional supply chains and created chaos on backcountry roads for county officials and the Colorado Department of Transportation as travelers have ignored recommended detours.

Marty Adell, Incident Commander with U.S. Forest Service, gives an update on the Grizzly Creek Fire Friday at the Eagle County Fairgrounds in Eagle. The fire is expected to grow in the coming days with little humidity and hot weather.
Christopher Dillman/Post Independent

While getting I-70 back open is the top priority, Polis said he would be briefed later Friday about a possible reopening of Independence Pass, which was closed Wednesday after it was overrun with semi-trucks — which aren’t allowed anytime on the narrow, winding road — as well as huge amounts of passenger car traffic, Pitkin County Sheriff Joe DiSalvo said.

The closure of Independence Pass drew a rebuke from Garfield County officials. County Commissioner Tom Jankovsky was livid Thursday that Pitkin County would be able to convince state highway officials to close the Roaring Fork Valley’s eastern relief valve.

“What kind of neighbors are they when they turn their back on us in an emergency. They’re basically giving us the finger,” Jankovsky said in a phone interview with the Glenwood Springs Post Independent.

“It’s a matter of health, safety and welfare,” Jankovsky said. “That’s our emergency exit. They simply need to manage it and make sure trucks don’t even get into Aspen in the first place … not close it. It can be done.”

Cottonwood Pass, which connects from Gypsum to south of Glenwood Springs, was closed Tuesday after an Amazon truck rolled off the side of the road. Eagle County officials also indefinitely closed the Eagle-Thomasville Road, which is up the Fryingpan Valley east of Basalt, in both directions after multiple accidents occurred.

“It’s kind of like a game of whack-a-mole,” Amber Barrett with the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office said Thursday. “You close one road and another one becomes a problem. One day it was Cottonwood (Pass), one day it was Independence Pass, then Crooked Creek or Thomasville Road 400.

“These are basically trails, not roads. And now that the roads are trashed, four-wheel-drive trucks are getting stuck.”

Polis, when asked about weekend traffic to the High County, said he would urge travelers to take into account air quality issues and the road closures before jumping in the car or getting out in the backcountry.

“It’s a good time, especially for residents in most affected areas, to stay home in a filtered air environment,” he said. “It’s not a good time to be exerting yourself physically and that includes the Front Range when the wind is blowing that way. Very poor air quality with heavy particulates from these fires.”

“I would urge the traveling public and the recreating public, please be careful,” William Perry Pendley, the acting director of the Bureau of Land Management, said at Friday’s briefing. “Eighty percent of our fires are caused by humans, and every human-caused fire is a fire we can’t be fighting over here right now. Watch what you’re doing with your automobiles, keep your automobiles in tune. Don’t be dragging chains, don’t pull over into grassy areas. Watch your campfires. And also, recreational shooting on public lands, let’s stay away from that for a while.”

William Perry Pendley, acting director of the Bureau of Land Management, speaks to the media on the Grizzly Creek Fire Friday in Eagle. The fire is the highest priority fire in the country because of Interstate 70.
Christopher Dillman/Vail Daily

The fire is mostly burning on U.S. Forest Service land, Polis said, but a few hundred acres of federal public lands managed by the BLM are also burning.

Outside of the transportation issues, fire officials’ top priorities are evacuations of residents in threatened areas, protecting structures and power and water assets, Polis said.

“There are some power assets and power lines that we are worried about,” he said. “We’re making provisions already for both Xcel and Holy Cross to be in there doing the work they need to. There’s watershed areas that are being threatened. Obviously some structures. But the priority is going to be the transportation corridor, protecting the structures and the watershed and power.”

The Aspen Times’ David Krause and the Post Independent’s John Stroud contributed reporting.

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