Weather, logistics focus of Grizzly Creek Fire Sunday evening video meeting
During the Grizzly Creek Fire virtual community meeting Sunday night, fire officials briefed Garfield, Eagle and Pitkin county area locals on various aspects of the team’s suppression and containment strategies. But one key takeaway message was clear: the wildfire is expected to continue to stay active and grow over the next several days.
“When we’re talking about this fire specifically, I did not want to paint this rosy picture that everything’s going to be grandiose, I want to make sure we know what we’re looking at,” said Marty Adell, incident commander on the fire.
“I want to let you know as the citizenry of this area that this fire will continue to burn for some time. There is a lot of fuel out there, the weather is setting up not exactly in our favor, but with great effort between the local community and the local resources… we will continue to have progress forward; it just may take a little while.”
The Grizzly Creek Fire grew to 25,690 acres by Sunday morning, and full suppression efforts continued with 625 personnel helping fight the fire.
And according to Adell, the Great Basin National Incident Management Team is up against several logistical, topographical and weather-related challenges with fighting the wildfire.
For one, much of the fire fuel — which includes the live plants, trees and shrubs in the area as well as the dead grasses and brush littering the ground — is very dry. Throughout Colorado, the monsoon season that usually hits this time of year has been absent, resulting in very minimal precipitation, Adell said.
He also noted that the forecast for the next week or so is expected to include more dry, warm weather, as well as dry thunderstorms with the possibility of dry lightening and high, erratic winds.
“You will see some more fire growth and a lot of smoke for several days to a week or so,” Adell said.
On Sunday, firefighters continued to implement structure protection around the Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park gondola and also worked to keep the fire south of Coffee Pot Road.
The fire team is utilizing hand crews or on-the-ground firefighters, bulldozers and engine crews where it can to reinforce its “lines,” or cleared breaks it aims to keep the fire from crossing. However, the steep terrain and active nature of the fire in parts has also led the team to rely on dropping lots of retardant to help contain the blaze, according to Jeff Surber, operations section chief on the fire.
Surber walked viewers through what crews were working on Sunday in each area around the fire using a 3D, topographic map, and said that the fire team greatly benefitted Sunday from the less windy weather conditions.
Watch the first part of the meeting here:
“The atypical part of this fire has been that the Glenwood Canyon topography… what that topography does is it mixes the winds in a way that really influences the ability for the fire to spot back and forth across the canyon,” Surber said.
“…The advance of the fire was limited by the weather really well today. We never got a real heavy wind on it… so today was a great day, we had just some really good success because of the weather.”
Surber and Adell were two of the various fire team leaders and tri-county area officials who spoke to the public at Sunday’s community meeting, which fluctuated between 1,600 to 2,100 viewers.
William Basye, the fire’s air resource advisor, spoke to air quality and the prevalence of wildfire smoke in the tri-county area, advising that the air will generally be smokiest around 10 a.m. and 11 a.m. and in the evening.
Eagle County Sheriff James Van Beek spoke to the importance of area residents to sign up for Eagle and Garfield County alerts and to have “Ready, Set Go” plans in place in case they have to evacuate.
And Scott Fitzwilliams, supervisor of the White River National Forest, spoke to the great collaboration that’s taken place to fight the fire along with the question most officials have been getting over the past several days from locals: when will I-70 between Glenwood Springs and Gypsum reopen?
Fitzwilliams said that the ultimate decision is up to the Colorado Department of Transportation and Colorado State Patrol, but that before they even get to that point, the fire teams have to be sure there is no active fire along the highway and has to clear any debris from the fire, like burned trees and rocks, that may be on the roadway — which could take awhile. As of Sunday, there was no estimated time for reopening.
“We all want it to open and we recognize this is a huge, huge impact to our communities, to the West Slope, to economies, to commerce, and it’s a really, really high priority,” Fitzwilliams said.
“Having been through that canyon quite a few times it’s not safe right now, there’s fire sometimes right up to the road, there are trees on fire right next to the road and there are firefighters and people moving up and down that need to do their jobs.”
Fitzwilliams also said the area immediately surrounding Hanging Lake still seems to be intact and that a Burned Area Emergency Response (BAER) team will start assessing the fire’s more long-term impact on forest resources like watersheds and wildlife this week.
The next community meeting will be held virtually Tuesday, Aug. 18 at 6 p.m. To tune into the meeting in English, go to the Grizzly Creek Fire Facebook page. To tune into the meeting in Spanish, go to the Mi Salud, Mi Charco Facebook page.
For continued Grizzly Creek Fire updates, follow the fire Facebook page and the fire’s InciWeb profile at inciweb.nwcg.gov/incident/6942.
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Motorists and passersby could see a refreshed gateway to Rifle along Interstate 70 in the future.