Grizzly Creek Fire forces overnight closure of I-70 in Glenwood Canyon
Interstate 70 through Glenwood Canyon east of Glenwood Springs was to remain closed in both directions through Monday night into Tuesday, as firefighters continued to battle the Grizzly Creek Fire that broke out along the freeway earlier in the day.
The fire started about 1:30 p.m. Monday in the median between the eastbound lanes and the elevated westbound lanes at mile marker 120, near the Grizzly Creek Rest and Recreation area.
By early evening, about 60 firefighters and numerous aircraft had responded to the 1,300-acre wildfire, located about five miles east of Glenwood Springs.
“The cause of the fire is under investigation,” incident PIO David Boyd with the White River National Forest said in a press release. “There are no immediate threats to structures and no evacuations are in place.
Fire operations had concluded by 8:30 p.m., and were to begin again Tuesday morning. The Upper Colorado River Interagency Fire Management Unit is lead on the incident, but multiple local and federal emergency response agencies, including crews from the Glenwood Springs Fire Department, remain involved.
I-70 remained closed in both directions through Glenwood Canyon overnight between mile markers 116 (Glenwood Springs) and 140 (Dotsero).
Access to the Flat Tops Wilderness from Coffee Pot Road is also closed, according to the incident command release.
“The safety closure (on I-70) is to allow CDOT specialists to assess two bridges located near where the Grizzly Creek Fire started, as well as increased rockfall hazard in Glenwood Canyon,” Colorado Department of Transportation officials said in a press release issued at 7:45 p.m. Monday.
Rockfall from the fire area has already been reported, and is likely due to burned vegetation no longer holding rocks in place, CDOT advised in the release.
“CDOT asks that motorists not use Cottonwood Pass as a detour, due to fire activity,” the release stated, noting that the high-country pass is not suitable for heavy traffic.
CDOT recommends that westbound travelers head from Denver take US 24 to US 285 to Poncha Springs, then turn west on US 50, which reaches I-70 in Grand Junction.
Eastbound travelers should take US 50 from Grand Junction to Poncha Springs, turn left onto US 285 to US 24, which reaches I-70 between Avon and Vail.
Motorists can also take a northern detour of CO 131 to US 40 to CO 139. CO 13 at Rifle is open at this time but not recommended due to construction.
Firefighters were using heavy air attack with four heavy air tankers, two single engine air tankers (SEAT) and a Type I and Type III helicopter.
The fire was burning mostly in the rugged Grizzly Creek drainage and up the steep canyon walls in that area between Grizzly and No Name creeks. Boyd said the fire is burning mostly on U.S. Forest Service land.
“That is super rugged country, so it’s not a place we can safely put firefighters on the ground, so we have been fighting it from the air,” he said.
Hikers, rafters evacuated
Several rafters and guides had to be evacuated from different parts of the canyon when the fire broke out, and hikers were escorted down from Hanging Lake and were directed to the east side of Glenwood Canyon.
“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 H20 Ventures, which runs the Hanging Lake hiking permit reservation system.
Hikers are currently limited to 200 per day due to the COVID-19 restrictions, and no shuttle is in service. Murphy did not immediately know how many hikers were on the trail at the time the fire broke out.
Once to their cars in the trailhead parking lot, Colorado Department of Transportation crews worked to get 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.”
Hikers were also asked to leave the Grizzly Creek and No Name trails located in Glenwood Canyon as the fire began to spread.
Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park shut down Monday afternoon due to impacts from the fire, park co-owner Steve Beckley said.
“We kept having power outages that affected the rides, so we sent everyone down,” he said. “We will be open (Tuesday).”
City of Glenwood Springs spokeswoman Hannah Klausman confirmed that the fire initially knocked out power in Glenwood Springs. She said the city was able to work with Xcel Energy to circuit around the fire area, and the power was restored shortly before 3 p.m.
Glenwood Springs Fire Department initially responded to the wildfire at mile marker 120 on eastbound Interstate 70 in Glenwood Canyon at about 1:30 p.m. The interstate was soon closed in both directions.
Evacuations were in progress for Bair Ranch and Grizzly Creek, mostly involving motorists stopped at the two rest areas and people using the river access and trails in the area. An earlier report of an evacuation for No Name was later said to be incorrect.
The fire quickly burned from the median to the north side of I-70 and rapidly spread up the steep hillside in the canyon.
One helicopter initially responded to the scene, followed by four heavy air tankers.
CDOT strongly advises that Cottonwood Pass is not an alternate route for any type of vehicle, and that Highway 82 over Independence Pass has a prohibition on vehicles over 35 feet in length, including semis.
Due to the interstate closure, LIFT-UP cancelled its Carbondale food distribution Monday afternoon. Distributions are still scheduled for Tuesday in Parachute, Wednesday in New Castle and Thursday in Glenwood Springs and Carbondale, according to a press release.
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