New evacuations to east of Glenwood Canyon as Grizzly Fire criss-crosses river
Firefighters battling the Grizzly Creek Fire late Thursday were attacking a new spot fire south of the Colorado River in Glenwood Canyon near the Hanging Lake Tunnels that was quickly spreading up an area known as Devil’s Hole gulch.
“The terrain and fuels in the northeast portion of the fire made access difficult for firefighters north of Interstate 70. The fire pushed East and went into Bair Ranch where evacuations were made,” officials said in a Facebook post Friday morning.
Evacuations were ordered at sunset Thursday for Bair Ranch, Sweetwater and the Coffee Pot Springs area, by order of the Garfield County Sheriff’s Office.
Dotsero is on pre-evacuation notice, but there are no orders for Gypsum at this time. An evacuation site was established at the Gypsum Recreation Center.
The new burn area in the canyon is about half a mile from the Hanging Lake Tunnels, according to a 6 p.m. Thursday post from fire command.
“Firefighters are accessing the fire and (determining) how to engage it safely. Helicopters continue to do bucket work,” the Thursday evening post said.
A new fire acreage estimate had not been provided, but earlier in the day the fire was said to have grown to more than 6,300 acres.
Crews were successful in keeping the fire spread on the northwest side of the fire from crossing No Name Creek, which had been the major concern to start the day.
Fire management was taken over Thursday morning by the Great Basin Type 1 management team, including multiple 20-person Hot Shot crews. The fire was also being fought with six helicopters, several firefighting airplanes, 11 engines, one water tender and ground machinery. Total personnel reached 238 people.
Containment was still at 0%, and the cause remains under investigation. 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.
The Grizzly Creek Fire started in the Interstate 70 median in Glenwood Canyon near the Grizzly Creek recreation area about 1:30 p.m. Monday.
I-70 remains 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.
“Fire continues to be on both sides of the interstate, which can cause debris to roll into the road creating safety hazards to the public,” incident command said in an earlier Facebook post, indicating the closure could be quite lengthy. “Firefighting equipment is also frequenting the corridor. We continue to access the roadways and will inform the public as soon as it can be opened safely.”
CDOT spokeswoman Elise Thatcher said as long as there’s fire next to the road, I-70 will remain closed.
“We also need that corridor for firefighting operations, so that factor would have to not be in play for us to reopen,” she said.
After the fire danger has subsided, CDOT will also need to have engineers check the structural integrity of any bridges where the fire burned, and also evaluate and mitigate for any rockfall hazards within the burn area, Thatcher said.
Highway 82 east over Independence Pass was also 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.
Meanwhile, Garfield County officials plan to push CDOT and Pitkin County officials Friday morning to reopen Highway 82 over Independence Pass to passenger vehicles.
CDOT said Wednesday when it closed the pass due to traffic volume and large trucks trying to make their way illegally over the narrow road that the route would stay closed for as long as I-70 through Glenwood Canyon remains closed.
Garfield County Commissioner Tom Jankovsky was livid Thursday that Pitkin County would be able to convince state highway officials to close the Roaring Fork Valley’s eastern relief valve.
“What kind of neighbors are they when they turn their back on us in an emergency. They’re basically giving us the finger,” Jankovsky said in a phone interview calling attention to the planned teleconference between state and officials from the two counties, which may include Gov. Jared Polis.
“It’s a matter of health, safety and welfare,” Jankovsky said. “That’s our emergency exit. They simply need to manage it and make sure trucks don’t even get into Aspen in the first place … not close it. It can be done.”
Garfield County has declared a local disaster emergency as a result of not only the Grizzly Creek Fire, but the massive Pine Gulch Fire burning on the Garfield-Mesa county line north of Grand Junction where the county has had to close roads and order evacuations. The Pine Gulch Fire has burned more than 68,000 acres.
“Continued hot and dry weather conditions are forecast, along with high winds, creating potential for further spread of these wildfires,” Garfield County stated in a Thursday press release.
“The fires constitute a ‘local disaster emergency that warrants the mobilization of emergency response and the furnishing of aid and assistance,’” the declaration reads.
The disaster declaration was created Wednesday, and the Board of County Commissioners are scheduled to ratify the resolution at the regular BOCC meeting on Monday.
“The declaration is necessary to ensure the public health, safety and welfare of the citizens of Garfield County,” according to the press release. “It will be in effect for seven days, after which it can be continued or renewed.”
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