Grizzly Creek Fire advances into No Name canyon, firefighting efforts focus on keeping flames east of creek
The Grizzly Creek Fire burning in Glenwood Canyon grew to more than 4,600 acres with no containment Wednesday, mostly advancing to the west into the No Name Creek drainage, fire incident command team members said during an evening Facebook live community meeting.
That is cause for concern for the northern sections of Glenwood Springs. If the fire jumps the creek, parts of town north of Interstate 70 would be put on pre-evacuation notice.
“So far, we have been able to keep (the fire) on the east side of No Name Creek,” said Jared Hohn, deputy incident commander with the Rocky Mountain Type 2 Blue Incident Management Team, which took over fire management on Wednesday.
As of that evening, there was not a pre-evacuation notice for Glenwood Springs, he and Garfield County Sheriff Lou Vallario clarified during the video session that allowed people to ask questions via live chat.
Full evacuation orders remain in place for the No Name neighborhood south and north of I-70 in the canyon, as well as Lookout Mountain, Homestead Estates, Bair Ranch, High Aspen Ranch, Coulter Creek, Cottonwood Pass and Spring Valley Ranch south of the current fire area.
Live news conferences and community meetings are not possible with the COVID-19 pandemic health precautions in place, White River National Forest Supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams said.
While it would be ideal to do the evening fire updates and answer questions in person, Fitzwilliams said the internet-based format will have to do. There will be a Facebook live update every other day at 6 p.m., with the next one on Friday evening.
“We know we have a real situation here, and it’s serious,” Fitzwilliams said. “This fire is in a really tough spot, and it’s really tough to fight. And, it’s causing all of us a lot of consternation and a lot of pain.
“As a team, we want to be as transparent as possible and provide as much information that we possibly can,” he said.
The fire was to be handed over to a more highly trained and experienced Type 1 Incident Command team on Thursday, Fitzwilliams said.
The Grizzly Creek Fire started in the highway median along Interstate 70 in Glenwood Canyon near the Grizzly Creek recreation area about 1:30 p.m. Monday. The cause remains under investigation.
I-70 is closed indefinitely in both directions through the canyon between Glenwood Springs and Gypsum. Motorists are being advised by the Colorado Department of Transportation to take alternate routes to the south via connecting highways to U.S. 50 or north to U.S. 40.
Highway 82 east over Independence Pass was closed Wednesday for as long as I-70 remains closed, after several semis became stuck on the narrow pass, where vehicles over 35 feet long are not allowed. The backcountry dirt road over Cottonwood Pass was also closed and is now part of the fire evacuation area.
The fire continues to burn on both the north and south sides of Glenwood Canyon, after it jumped to the south across I-70, the Colorado River and the Union Pacific Railroad tracks and up the steep cliffs to the south Tuesday afternoon. The UP line has been shut down, and Amtrak trains that normally run through Glenwood Springs have been diverted north through Wyoming.
On Wednesday, most of the fire activity was on the northwest flank, while there was not as much significant spread to the north, east and south, Hohn said.
“Right now, the fire is sitting in the bottom by No Name trail,” he said.
Hohn also described the current fire conditions in the context of the summer of 2018 when the Lake Christine Fire north of Basalt burned more than 12,500 acres on Basalt Mountain, consuming three homes when it jumped a ridge into the El Jebel community on the evening of July 4.
“That was a big fire season, and there were numerous large fires,” Hohn said. “This here is shadowing the 2018 year. Nationally, we’re at preparedness level four and resources are getting spread thin.”
The Grizzly Creek Fire remains the highest-priority fire in the country, due to the I-70 closure. The freeway serves as the main east-west thoroughfare through Colorado.
The biggest concerns as the Type 1 team takes command will be public safety, protection of firefighters, and protection of structures and infrastructure, said Marty Adell, who was to take over incident command on Thursday.
“We will try to do our best to protect people’s livelihoods and homes,” he said, “and to reopen the I-70 corridor. We recognize the transportation and commerce needs of doing that.”
Ground crews on Wednesday were working structure protection south of the fire area, and at the Shoshone hydroelectric power plant in Glenwood Canyon.
Moisture levels in the fire area are at record low levels, Adell said.
“We have not seen the normal precipitation we have this time of year,” he said. “That monsoon pattern has not materialized in any way whatsoever.”
Vallario said law enforcement officials assisted with evacuations in the No Name, Lookout Mountain and northern Spring Valley areas. If a pre-evacuation notice comes for parts of Glenwood Springs, he said that means it’s time to plan and decide what to have ready to take in case of an evacuation and to make plans for accommodations should that occur.
“A pre-evacuation is just letting people know to be prepared, and that next message could very well be an evacuation order,” he said. “It’s about pre-planning. What’s valuable to take, like medications, pets, clothing, the basic, essential stuff.”
Brian Scott, who served as the public information officer for the fire on Wednesday, said that firefighting teams work with local public lands managers and other local officials to determine what areas within the forest or BLM lands are also high priority for protecting.
Hanging Lake, for instances, sits just a few miles to the northeast of the fire area, and as a national landmark and popular visitor destination, would likely meet the criteria.
“Given the way the fire is moving, there has likely been some spread toward Hanging Lake,” Scott said earlier in the day Wednesday. At the same time, there are several ridges and gulches in-between that would serve as natural fire breaks, he said.
“It’s certainly something to be concerned about, especially with these windy days,” Scott said. “But we also have to balance that resource protection with the safety of firefighters.”
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