LARIMER COUNTY, Colo. — As firefighters continue to work around the Kruger Rock Fire near Estes Park, weather conditions have calmed down, bringing light snow, less wind and cooler temperatures to the area.
As of 5 p.m. Wednesday, the fire had burned 145 acres and was 40% contained. It grew just 12 acres since 6:40 p.m. the night prior. The fire started around 7 a.m. Tuesday after high winds blew a tree onto a nearby power line, according to the Larimer County Sheriff's Office.
Light snow and cold temperatures fell over the area early Wednesday. Conditions Wednesday are expected to help firefighters on both the ground and in the air. As of 6:30 a.m., winds were about 6 mph in Estes Park. By 5 p.m., the fire crews were making progress on a hand line on the south and east flanks and would continue work on the northern flank on Thursday, the sheriff's office said. Crews will monitor the fire overnight.
More fire crews and air resources from other parts of the state and beyond were called in to help control the fire. They began operations at 7 a.m. Wednesday, according to the sheriff's office. At that time, the U.S. Forest Service and Larimer County assumed unified command of the fire.
A single-engine air tanker helping with the fire response crashed Tuesday evening near the south end of Hermit Park, around where the fire was burning, and the pilot — the only person inside — died. The pilot worked for the private company CO Fire Aviation and has not been identified. The cause of the crash is not known. Winds were blowing between 40 mph and 50 mph at the time.
Evacuation details and road closures
Mandatory evacuations from Tuesday morning and afternoon remain unchanged for residents and businesses Wednesday due to "immediate and imminent danger," according to the Estes Park Emergency Communications Center.
This includes the following areas:
- Hermit Park
- Along Highway 36 from mile marker 9 (just southeast of Estes Park) south to the Boulder County line (including Big Elk Meadows and Pinewood Springs west of Highway 36)
On Wednesday at noon, all evacuations for residents on the east side of Highway 36 were lifted. This includes Pole Hill Road, the Panorama Peak area and everything south to the Boulder County line.
By 12:25 p.m., mandatory evacuations were downgraded to voluntary in the area south of Meadowdale Lane along the west side of Highway 36 south to the Boulder County line.
At 6 p.m., mandatory evacuations were downgraded to voluntary evacuations in the area south and east of the intersection of Fish Creek Road and Little Valley Drive.
The Joint Information Center for the fire will be closing at 5 p.m., the sheriff's office said.
Overnight sheltering for evacuees is available at the YMCA at 2515 Tunnel Road in Estes Park. Small pets are welcome and reservations are not required. LifeBridge Church has opened up as an overnight shelter, Larimer County officials said.
The American Red Cross Evacuation Center has opened at Estes Park Fairgrounds, located at 1209 Manford Avenue, for anybody in need. Small animals can be brought to the Larimer Humane Society, located at 3501 E. 71st Street in Loveland, and larger animals can be held at The Ranch at 5280 Arena Circle in Loveland.
For emergency updates on this fire, text LCEVAC to 888777, or call 970-980-2500.
The map below shows mandatory evacuations in red and voluntary evacuations in yellow. (You can zoom in by double clicking.)
Highway 36 is closed between Mall Road in Estes Park and Pinewood Springs, just north of Lyons. Highway 34 and Highway 7 are open.
Around 3:30 p.m. Tuesday, the U.S. Forest Service closed National Forest System lands south and east of Estes Park. Rocky Mountain National Park closed the Twin Sisters area, including the trail and parking area.
Estes Valley Fire Protection District confirmed early Wednesday that one cabin burned on the property of the YMCA of the Rockies. That fire was extinguished by 4:08 a.m.
Previous disasters in this area
The area where the air tanker went down on Tuesday has a deadly history.
In 2002, a fire tanker and a helicopter crashed in separate incidents during the Big Elk Fire, which burned 4,800 acres. It was one of the largest fires at that time to hit Larimer County.