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Colorado wildfires: Firefighters increase containment on several fires after cooler temps, some rain

Updated as of 6 p.m. Monday
Colorado wildfires: Firefighters increase containment on several fires after cooler temps, some rain
Posted at 11:44 AM, Aug 31, 2020

DENVER – Rain and cooler temperatures stemmed major growth over the weekend on the four major wildfires burning in Colorado and helped firefighters increase containment on three of them.

While there were some gusty winds and lightning that accompanied storms over much of the state, and some flash flooding, none of the fires grew markedly over the weekend. Temperatures are expected to remain cooler early this week, with continued chances of rain for much of the state, though there are red flag warnings Monday in effect for far western and northwestern Colorado, including the Grand Junction area.

Pine Gulch Fire

Firefighters increased containment on the Pine Gulch Fire – the largest in state history – to 79%, up 2% from Sunday afternoon, at 139,007 acres, said Southern Area Red Team Operations Manager CorDell Taylor.

On Monday, crews are expected to move some of its suppression repair group from the eastern side of the fire up to the northwest side, just south of CR 256, to rehab the area and to hopefully get the road open “in a couple of days,” Taylor said.

The main priority will be performing suppression repair to try to get roads and other land opened back up, with priority for areas used by the oil and gas industry and hunters.

Firefighters will be in the East Salt Creek area performing patrols and mop-up duties in an area that is still showing heat. The eastern side of the fire has not moved in several days.

Fire crews will also be in the Hunter Creek area, on the southern side of the fire working on a hot spot. The southwestern side of the fire is the area that remains the most uncontained, but Taylor said crews expect the fire to burn back on itself with Monday’s wind.

There is a red flag warning in effect for the area, with winds gusting above 30 mph after noon and through the evening ahead of an incoming cold front.

There were 686 personnel working on the fire as of Monday morning, which was caused by lightning and first reported on July 31.

Cameron Peak Fire

Rain and increased relative humidity kept the Cameron Peak Fire’s growth minimal over the weekend. As of Monday morning, it was 23,022 acres and 0% contained.

The fire, which was first reported on Aug. 13, is burning 25 miles east of Walden and 15 miles southwest of Red Feather Lakes.

On Sunday, crews established containment lines to protect communities to the northeast of the fire. They will continue working in that area Monday to further protect structures, according to the Rocky Mountain Incident Management Team.

Regional surge forces were called in to help as well, with a first stop at the Cameron Peak Fire. On Monday, these crews will build indirect lines close to the fire. The surge crews will work at this fire for several days before they will move on to other assignments in the Rocky Mountain region, according to the incident management team.

On Monday, firefighters will focus on the southern side of the fire. Officials said equipment from the Deadman Road to the north will be brought to the south side closer to the fire’s perimeter, while surge forces construct containment lines along Crown Point Road. Crews will begin staging in the south near Rocky Mountain National Park in case the fire progresses in that direction.

Meanwhile, other crews will monitor Highway 14, Pingree Park Road, Long Draw Road, and structures south of the Colorado State University Mountain Campus, among other locations, according to the incident management team.

Despite wind this weekend — and gusts that reached up to 45 mph — rain and increased humidity levels kept the fire from spreading. More rain is expected over the fire on Monday afternoon. Tuesday will stay cool too, but warmer and drier conditions will move in Wednesday through at least Friday, which could increase fire activity.

Colorado Highway 14 remains closed from Kelly Flats Campground to Gould. Larimer County lifted voluntary evacuations around the fire, though the previously issued mandatory evacuation orders remain in place. Click here for a map of closures. Rocky Mountain National Park has also issued closures.

The Canyon Lakes Ranger District is under Stage 2 fire restrictions.

Law enforcement is still investigating the cause of the fire and is asking for any photos the public may have from the trails located south of Cameron Peak, especially photos taken of active fire adjacent to any trails. Share those photos with SM.FS.usfsarp@usda.gov and call 307-745-2392, option 5, if you have any other information about how the fire started. (edited)

Grizzly Creek Fire

The Grizzly Creek Fire, burning just east of Glenwood Springs, saw minimal growth Sunday despite a fast-moving thunderstorm that moved through the area, and was 32,464 acres and 73% contained as of Monday morning.

Firefighters were pulled off the fire lines at 2 p.m. Sunday when a storm moved through and brought 40 mile-per-hour winds and lightning. But no crews were injured, and firefighters returned to their lines about an hour after the storm passed.

But another weather system is expected to move through the area Monday and bring similar wind gusts and lower relative humidity, which could create more conditions favorable to flare-ups, fire officials said.

“If we get any spotting or flare ups, we’ll have personnel in the appropriate places to take action,” said Operations Planning Section Chief Karen Scholl with the Alaska Incident Management Team. “We have safety zones for firefighters identified if we need them.”

Fire crews are continuing to establish containment on the northwest corner of the fire, near the No Name and Grizzly Creek drainages, where hotshot crews are trying to connect two different sections of fire line.

Firefighters are also trying to shore up a containment line on the south side of the fire near Green Lake which is about three-quarters of the way finished, officials said.

There were 626 personnel working the fire as of Monday morning.

Interstate 70 remains open, but drivers can expect some delays for utilities repair and possible closures in the event of flooding or rockslides. Coffee Pot Road, Transfer Trail Road, roads in the Flat Tops, as well as White River National Forest and BLM roads, remain closed.

Fire officials will host a Facebook Live community meeting at 6 p.m. Monday on the fire’s Facebook page.

Williams Fork Fire

The Williams Fork Fire was at 12,097 acres and 10% contained as of Monday morning, officials said.

The fire saw minimal activity over the weekend, with cooler temperatures and rainfall containing its growth. The fire only grew about 20 acres since Saturday and containment jumped up from 5%.

Monday was expected to bring cooler temperatures with a chance of isolate thunderstorms in the afternoon.

Some areas of the fire saw as much as 0.72 inches of rain over the weekend. Crews are still working to build a fire line west of Fraser and south along St. Louis Creek Road. The fire remains contained along the Williams Fork River.

While the rain helped lessen fire activity over the weekend, pockets of dead and down timber continue to burn and smolder beneath tree canopies, officials said.

U.S. Forest Service land remains closed west of Winter Park and Fraser, an area that includes roads, trails and campgrounds. Go here for more closure information.

Pre-evacuation notices for Area 1 were lifted on Monday.

As of Monday, 361 crew members were still working the human-caused fire, which began on the afternoon of Aug. 14.

East Fork Fire

Along with the four major wildfires burning in the state, there is a fifth that has grown to more than 1,600 acres in southern Colorado, near the New Mexico border.

The East Fork Fire was 1,680 acres and 15% contained as of Monday morning. Fire officials said the containment level is expected to increase over the next several days after limited fire growth on Sunday.

There is now a fire line established on the southern side of the fire, and aircraft and ground resources continue with a suppression strategy this week, officials said.

Ninety-five total personnel are fighting the fire, which is located 11 miles southeast of Trinidad.