I-70 reopens as crews continue to fight fire in South Canyon west of Glenwood
UPDATE: As of 8:07 p.m., Interstate 70 has reopened to eastbound and westbound traffic but vehicles remain at a crawl heading west.
An hours-long closure of Interstate 70 through South Canyon might be over, but that doesn’t mean traffic is moving much.
A wildfire in South Canyon temporarily closed Interstate 70 in both directions Wednesday afternoon west of Glenwood Springs.
But by 7:20 p.m., both eastbound and westbound lanes were reopened to traffic even as fire crews continued to battle the blaze, except for a brief westbound single lane closure just west of Glenwood Springs.
Traffic, however, was slow to get through South Canyon more than an hour alter. Glenwood’s location at the intersection of Colorado Highway 82 and I-70 is lending to a “volume issue” with vehicles, said Elise Thatcher, Colorado Department of Transportation Region 3 communications manager.
In addition, a vehicle rollover at the Silt exit further delayed traffic through the area Wednesday night.
CDOT typically staggers major roadway reopenings after an unexpected closure, allowing for traffic stuck on the road to move through the area before reopening it to more motorists. CDOT did this on Wednesday through South Canyon, but traffic still snarled through Glenwood and further west.
“(Area CDOT employees) were saying that from (mile marker) 116 through South Canyon might be about 45 minutes right now,” Thatcher said. “So I would plan on — if there’s a way to safely stop and enjoy the sunset now would be a good time to do that so that folks aren’t stuck in their vehicles.”
Thatcher said that while traffic might not be moving as quickly as many would like, a closure of about a half-mile of one westbound lane is providing firefighters an important staging area for their continued efforts on the blaze.
“We really appreciated the fantastic firefighting efforts of (Upper Colorado River Interagency Fire and Aviation Management Unit) and Glenwood Springs Fire Department — they did a fantastic job,” she said. “Other agencies helped out and it was a great team effort.”
According to a Glenwood Springs Fire Department press release, the fire burning north of I-70 at mile-marker 111 was called in at 2:32 p.m.
“Upon arrival, about half an acre was burning with construction crews attempting to fight the fire,” the release stated. “The fire spread quickly, growing to approximately 15 acres in a short amount of time.”
The fire was estimated to be 35 – 40 acres in size shortly before 4:45 p.m. The fire is burning in pinion and juniper on steep areas of land controlled by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, according to the release.
There have been no injuries or loss of property reported at this time.
River enthusiasts are also being asked to stay out of the Colorado River in the fire area so that air support can continue.
Glenwood Springs Fire Department and Upper Colorado River Interagency are commanding the incident. Interagency will be taking command of the fire.
According to the release, two helicopters and a small engine air tanker are fighting this fire. Mutual aid from Carbondale & Rural Fire Protection District, Garfield County Sheriff and Colorado River Fire Rescue are also on scene.
“We are grateful we were able to get a fast response to the fire,” Incident Commander Harlan Nimmo said. “We thank our neighboring fire agencies for their quick response. We know closing I-70 is an inconvenience and we appreciate everyone’s cooperation.”
The cause of the fire is unknown at this time.
Updated information will be posted on Glenwood Springs Fire Department’s Facebook page.
Two separate notices were sent out by Garfield County Emergency Communications around the same time just after 3 p.m., pointing out the closure points on either side of the fire.
“It started as a very small fire on the north side of the freeway, but is growing in size,” Glenwood Springs Fire Chief Gary Tillotson said at around 3:30 p.m.
Eastbound traffic was being turned around at the Canyon Creek exit and westbound traffic was being halted or turned around at the Dotsero exit east of Glenwood Canyon, according to the Colorado Department of Transportation.
Stay off Cottonwood Pass
“Motorists traveling from the Roaring Fork Valley or Glenwood can access eastbound I-70 towards Glenwood Canyon and beyond,” CDOT spokesperson Elise Thatcher said. “Westbound traffic from Eagle County should not detour into Gypsum/Cottonwood Pass Road.
“Cottonwood Pass Road is not recommended or accessible due to paving operations on Valley Road, and utility work on Cottonwood Pass Road,” she said in a separate release.
Local Glenwood Springs westbound I-70 traffic is not allowed past the West Glenwood exit.
The Post Independent was live on the scene via Facebook:
This is a developing story, and will be updated as more information becomes available.
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