The Wyoming Hotshots Assist with the Pine Gulch Fire – Wyoming Hotshots
*This is an evolving situation and updates to acreage and closures are likely to change frequently*
First off, travelers heading to Sunlight Mountain Resort, Aspen Snowmass, Steamboat Resort, Winter Park, Arapahoe Basin, Copper Mountain and Powderhorn Mountain Resort will likely find themselves smelling smoke and experiencing bad air quality. There are also travel restrictions in place that may impact travel to several of these ski areas. Be sure to check ahead with the Colorado Department of Transportation in regard to travel plans.
Satellite Imagery Thursday Morning (8.14.2020) Show Smoke Covering Much of Colorado
Horrible air quality, road closures, and evacuations have all been in the headlines recently as two large wildfires, the Pine Gulch Fire (north of Grand Junction) and the Grizzly Creek Fire (near Glenwood Springs), are quickly growing and spreading across western Colorado. Now, a third fire has erupted and is causing concern in Northern Colorado – the Cameron Peak Fire.
How did we get here? The lack of rain over the past several months has led to major drought concerns across the state. As of August 13, 100-percent of Colorado is abnormally dry and more impressively, 94-percent of Colorado is experiencing a moderate drought. There are several areas that are under extreme and exceptional drought as well, but you get the point – all of Colorado is bone dry and we desperately need rain.
Grizzly Creek Fire – Near Glenwood Springs
The Grizzly Creek fire started on August 10. The cause is ultimately still unknown but according to the Eagle Country Sheriff’s Office, there are speculations that the fire was ignited by a blown tire, sparking rim, or a dragging chain as there were several ignition spots along the road. That road being I-70, one of Colorado’s main arteries. More than 230 personnel are working on the ground and in the air to fight this wildfire.
The Grizzly Creek Fire started on the north side of I-70 but in a showing of how unpredictable fires can be, flames jumped over the interstate and the Colorado River and now areas on the south side of I-70 are burning as well. This fire has quickly grown to over 14,000-acres thanks to extremely dry and windy conditions and if you’ve ever driven through Glenwood Canyon, you know there is some steep terrain that makes it very difficult to get ground crews on. Firefighters are currently working on structure protection in multiple areas including the Shoshone Power Plant, Lookout Mountain, and No Name subdivision.
I-70, from Gypsum to Glenwood Springs, has been shut down in both directions since the tenth and there is no sign of when that will reopen thanks to this wildfire’s erratic fire behavior and close proximity to the interstate. The normal ~3.5-hour trip from Denver to Grand Junction will now take you 5-7 hours. Cottonwood Pass and Independence Pass have also closed due to increased traffic as people try to cut some time off of this major detour. For continuous updates on road closures, visit Colorado DOT’s Twitter, Facebook or check InciWeb (an incident information system) for the latest.
Pine Gulch Fire
The Pine Gulch Fire started on July 31 and was started by lightning. The fire is burning in remote, rough terrain approximately 18 miles north of Grand Junction. Most of the land that has burned is Bureau of Land Management (BLM) property but upwards of 20,000 acres of privately-owned land has burned as well.
The Pine Gulch Fire has quickly grown to over 73,000 acres of which only 7-percent is contained. The fire has been described to have had “erratic fire behavior” which essentially means that high winds have been blowing the flames around and up mountainsides at a rapid rate. The smoke from this fire has billowed up so quickly it has created its own atmospheric clouds – Pyrocumulus clouds and at one point, this fire grew over 10,000 acres in a 24-hour time period which is the size of more than 7-thousand football fields.
At 73,381 acres (as of 8/14/2020), the Pine Gulch Fire is the 5th largest fire in Colorado’s state history. Here are the top 5 largest wildfires Colorado has ever seen:
5) Pine Gulch Fire (2020) – 73,321 acres
4) High Park Fire (2012) – 87,250 acres
3) Spring Creek Fire (2018) – 108,045 acres
2) West Fork Complex Fire (2013) – 109,632 acres (West Fork, Windy Pass and Papoose fires)
1) Hayman Fire (2002) – 138,114 acres
Cameron Peak Fire
Igniting and rapidly growing, the Cameron Peak Fire started on August 13 and has quickly grown to over 1,500 acres. There are multiple evacuations in place and travelers looking to go over Cameron Pass are out of luck as the road (SR 14) is shut down from Cameron Pass to Walden. This is a developing situation so please avoid the area as much as possible.
The forecast is looking bleak. The Climate Prediction Center says to expect hotter than normal and drier than normal conditions over all of Colorado through the end of August. There is the hope of isolated thunderstorms to help out in sporadic areas across Colorado, but lightning and windy conditions also come with thunderstorms so the possibility of those pop-up afternoon storms worsening the fires is also a possibility.
There are multiple fire bans posted across Colorado, like a complete fire ban in Rocky Mountain National Park, so as you travel out remember to always check fire restrictions and practice safe fire methods because our state is in a position to see more wildfires easily erupt. Discard of cigarettes butts sufficiently and be sure to not have anything, such as chains, dragging on the road behind or on your vehicle. Please protect our mountains as best as you can if you go out and about.
The Colorado DOT Division of Aeronautics installed cameras on AWOS stations across the state and those cameras are providing a birds-eye view of these fires. The view from Sunlight Mountain shows smoke from the Grizzly Creek fire filling up the surrounding canyons day-in and day-out. If you’re looking to possibly see smoke from the Pine Gulch Fire, check out the view from Walton Peak.