Grizzly Creek Fire now nearly 44 square miles with 4% containment
The Grizzly Creek Fire burning in both Garfield and Eagle counties has slowed in recent days, growing to an estimated 28,030 acres as of Wednesday — an area equal to nearly 44 square miles.
Officials also reported their first containment of the fire Wednesday, at 4%.
The Grizzly Creek Fire was the nation’s top wildfire priority, in part because of its ongoing closure of Interstate 70, the major east-west travel corridor through Colorado. It lost that designation Tuesday, following an explosion of fast-growing wildfires threatening communities in Northern California.
Nonetheless, public information officer Brian Scott said 108 additional firefighters reported to start work on the Grizzly Creek Fire on Wednesday, putting total personnel for the blaze at 820.
“As we’ve gotten more resources over the last three to four days, we’ve been able to focus on expanding the fire line protection. We’ve got a lot of line out there, not totally surrounding the fire, but getting close,” Scott said. “We’ve made a lot of progress in the last couple days, this being the first day we saw any containment listed. I would tend to think unless we have a significant weather event, I would think those (containment) numbers will go up.”
Crews spent the past two days working to build, strengthen, and complete fire lines to help contain the wildfire and stop its spread, focusing on fire lines along the Transfer Trail to Windy Point, from Interstate 70 to Coffee Pot Road, and above the French Creek Drainage.
Much of Wednesday’s efforts focused on the south side of the fire in Bair Ranch from Ike Creek east to Spruce Ridge where potential spread of the fire due to spotting remains high, according to an incident update.
The fire also has been held in the east side of the No Name Creek drainage.
“One concern on the west side was the fire moving to the north in that No Name Creek area, so we’re making sure we work really hard going up that area to keep it from crossing over and affecting northern Glenwood Springs,” Scott said.
Excel Energy crews have been working in Glenwood Canyon east of No Name to replace burned power poles and repair infrastructure.
Crews working on the Grizzly Creek Fire also helped respond to a new fire that ignited just after 4 p.m. Wednesday. The Red Canyon Fire was burning near Fisher Cemetery Road and County Road 115 in Garfield County. It was reported to be 30 to 40 acres in size, burning in grass and brush and threatening structures, which prompted evacuation notices for local residents. Crews reported they were making “excellent progress” on the new fire and planned to keep a night shift on the scene.
Resources dedicated to the Grizzly Creek Fire, which ignited on Aug. 10, now include 18 hand crews, 17 helicopters, 43 engines, seven water tenders, and 12 dozers. The cause of the fire remains under investigation.
In a daily Grizzly Creek Fire operations briefing, Jeff Surber, operations section chief for the Great Basin Type 1 Team, said three days of calm weather helped the firefighting effort, and that he expects to see more progress made toward containment around the perimeter of the fire.
The weather, however, was not expected to help. The forecast called for a possibility of dry lightning and stronger winds, with most of the region under a red flag warning Wednesday and under a fire weather watch until Thursday night.
The Grizzly Creek Fire is the largest on record for the White River National Forest, and the U.S. Forest Service has started an initial assessment of the damage.
“We won’t know the impacts on the land for a while, but we are doing an initial assessment with what’s called a burned area emergency response team,” said David Boyd, public affairs officer for White River National Forest. “We’re having them do an earlier assessment for Glenwood Canyon to try to assess what the immediate needs and threats are there in terms of erosion and potential for slides, and they’ll do a more thorough evaluation of the entire fire as we get closer to containment.”
I-70 has remained closed since Aug. 10, causing significant travel challenges for the region and long delays and detours. When the interstate will be able to reopen is uncertain.
Tamara Rollison, a regional communications manager for Colorado Department of Transportation, said crews are assessing the Grizzly Creek Fire’s impacts to the interstate and its bridges, as well as possible erosion impacts to the surrounding terrain.
“It is too early to say at this time what the impacts are as firefighting efforts continue,” Rollison said.
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Federal lands in and around the Roaring Fork Valley will be under a Stage 1 fire restrictions starting Friday, officials with the White River National Forest and Bureau of Land Management announced Wednesday morning.