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Wildfire detours and evacuations require more than mapping apps

Posted at 8:34 PM, Aug 14, 2020

COLORADO SPRINGS — A more than 50 mile stretch of I-70 near Glenwood Springs, Colorado is closed to all traffic with no estimated time for reopening. "It just is not safe to have folks traveling I-70," said Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) Spokesperson, Michelle Peulen. The Grizzly Creek fire burning to the edge of the road, smoke is impacting visibility, and fire crews need the road clear. It results in a very long detour. Colorado’s rugged mountains offer limited routes through mountain passes.

Many drivers are trying to find shortcuts. Guessing and using map apps are causing problems. “We have reports of an Amazon Prime truck that was using GPS and ended up on a four-wheel-drive dirt tail and got stuck," said Peulen Big rigs, and vehicles pulling trailers or boats have also gotten stuck trying to use narrow mountain roads rather than sticking to state-designated roads.

Some digital mapping providers have updated their systems after CDOT contacted them. “We ask that drivers take some accountability as well,” said Peulen, “and not rely on those directions." CDOT has a map showing detour options on its digital platforms.

The struggle for drivers trying to find alternate routes is happening in a situation of inconvenience. If it were a wildfire emergency evacuation there is no time for randomly finding an escape route.

"You never want to just rely on technology to get you to a safe place," said Lieutenant, Jesse Weddle with Colorado Springs Fire Department. Colorado Springs has thousands of homes on mountainsides and bluffs where there is high wildlife danger. Many also have limited routes for getting away from a wildfire.

It is important to have a wildfire evacuation plan. "You should always have your main route planned, but also have a couple of back up routes out of your area." Weddle says to talk with you family and neighbors about wildfire safety. A good evacuation plan gets residents quickly to safety and helps prevent traffic jams so fire crews can get to the scene and hopefully lessen damage caused by a wildfire.