Grizzly Creek Fire driven by hot, dry weather to 3,200 acre blaze
The Grizzly Creek Fire in Glenwood Canyon became the highest-priority fire in the United States on Tuesday, driven by hot, windy weather through a virtual tinderbox of dry vegetation, forcing evacuations and keeping Interstate 70 closed at least through Wednesday and possibly longer.
The fire, which started in the median of I-70 near the Grizzly Creek recreation area early Monday afternoon, was the top fire-fighting concern among numerous fires burning throughout the West, due to the extended closure of Colorado’s main east-west thoroughfare.
By Tuesday afternoon, the fire had jumped the Colorado River to the south side of Glenwood Canyon and had burned roughly 3,200 acres, according to an update Tuesday evening from the incident command team. It was 0% contained.
A total of 211 personnel were working the fire, which will be handed over to a Type 2 Incident Management team early Wednesday.
A fleet of firefighting aircraft was also working the fire from above, including two Very Large Air Tankers (VLAT), multiple Large Air Tankers, four heavy helicopters and one medium helicopter, said David Boyd, public information officer with the Upper Colorado Interagency Fire Management Unit.
Afternoon winds shifted and pushed the fire to the west into the No Name drainage and across the river to the south, and residents in the unincorporated neighborhood of No Name were evacuated. Not long after that, an evacuation notice was given to residents on nearby Lookout Mountain just east of Glenwood Springs.
Interstate 70 was to remain closed between mile points 116 (Glenwood Springs) and 140 (Gypsum) through the night Tuesday, with the possibility of an extended closure through the week, the Colorado Department of Transportation is advising.
“Hot, dry weather combined with dry fuels and a windy afternoon pushed the Grizzly Creek Fire in multiple directions,” Boyd said in a Tuesday night news release. “The fire crossed the Colorado River and Interstate 70 this afternoon, establishing itself on the south side.
“Firefighters are conducting preparation work in the evacuated communities and Shoshone Power Plant, evaluating structures and helping create defensible space where practical,” Boyd said.
The cause of the fire remains under investigation, but is believed to be related to passing traffic on the interstate.
The city of Glenwood Springs on Tuesday also shut off the No Name water diversion source and is pumping water from the Roaring Fork River pump station due to the Grizzly fire.
“This is out of an abundance of caution to protect the water supply from fire retardant being used on the Grizzly Creek Fire in Glenwood Canyon,” city officials said in a news release. “Residents are asked to refrain from watering lawns for the next 48 hours. Additional restrictions may be issued later.”
No Name is home to about 80 households. Residents there also were advised not to drink the water in their neighborhood while evacuations were under way, as the water system there was switched over to the creek surface water, neighborhood association board member Sherry Caloia said.
This is the second time Caloia said she can remember being evacuated from the No Name neighborhood because of a wildfire. The first one was several years ago when a fire burned up the hillside on the Glenwood side of the No Name Tunnels “about 10 or 15 years ago,” she said.
“We had to do it yesterday (Monday) and again today,” Caloia said. “There’s not a lot you can do. You just get in the car and go. I have no idea what to save, but I’ve got myself, my computer, the dogs, the cat…”
Evacuees from No Name and the more sparsely populated Lookout Mountain area up Red Canyon Road were directed to an evacuation center at the Glenwood Springs Community Center. Most were finding other accommodations in town with friends and such, including Caloia.
“It was pretty orderly in No Name,” she said. “Some people were working and couldn’t get back right away, so they were pretty worried.”
On Monday as the fire broke out, visitors to the Hanging Lake area had to be evacuated.
“Our number one goal was to get everyone off the trail as soon as we heard about the fire, because it’s a 45-minute hike back down,” said Ken Murphy, co-owner of H2O Ventures, which runs the Hanging Lake hiking permit reservation system.
Hanging Lake is currently limited to 200 visitors per day due to the COVID-19 restrictions, and no shuttle is in service.
Once hikers got to the trailhead parking lot, CDOT crews worked to get about 30 motorists redirected onto eastbound I-70. There’s only a westbound entrance to I-70 from Hanging Lake, Murphy noted.
“We have an emergency plan in place for just something like this, and it worked,” he said. “We were cleared and done pretty quickly, and got everyone out safe.”
Murphy said he has had to cancel 960 reservations through Friday.
I-70 safety closure continues
The I-70 safety closure remains in effect until further notice not only to aid firefighting efforts, but to allow CDOT crews to assess two bridges located near where the Grizzly Creek Fire started on Monday.
There is also now increased rockfall hazard in Glenwood Canyon.
“Rockfall has been reported and is likely due to burned vegetation no longer holding rocks in place,” CDOT advised Tuesday morning.
Cross-state traffic is still advised to take detour routes to the south via U.S. 50, 24 and 285, and to the north via U.S. 40 and Colorado 139 or 13.
“CDOT has paused some construction projects to allow for detour traffic,” according to the Tuesday news release.
Cottonwood Pass between Garfield and Eagle counties was closed Tuesday morning after a semi overturned around 3 a.m. when the driver attempted to navigate the steep, narrow, dirt road.
Eagle County Emergency Management Director Birch Barron advised county commissioners in a morning briefing Tuesday that, when Cottonwood Pass reopens, only smaller vehicles capable of maneuvering the tight roadway should attempt the route.
“And you can expect some serious traffic,” he said.
CDOT says to avoid Cottonwood Pass altogether, except for local traffic only.
“CDOT asks that motorists not use Cottonwood Pass or Independence Pass as detour routes, as these roads are not built for heavy traffic or commercial oversize vehicles,” CDOT said in its latest release.
One large truck, hauling for Amazon, flipped on its side on the Garfield County side of the pass in the early-morning hours Tuesday.
The truck was scheduled to be hauled off the pass Tuesday evening, but Trooper Jacob Best with the Colorado State Patrol wrote in an email that the recovery of the tractor-trailer had been called off for safety reasons. The timeframe for when it will be recovered is uncertain.
Vehicles over 35 feet in length, including semi-tractor trailers, are prohibited on Independence Pass at any time. The restriction also includes a vehicle and trailer that, together, exceed 35 feet, CDOT advises.
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