Up in Flames: Colorado on Fire

Image courtesy of Sadie Johnson. Map data courtesy of Colorado Division of Homeland Security.

Editor’s note: The information included in this article is accurate as of Wednesday, September 16th.

Five major wildfires are actively burning through Colorado: Pine Gulch, Grizzly Creek, Cameron Peak, Williams Fork, and Middle Fork. These fires have destroyed a total of 291,019 acres (455 square miles) and firefighting costs reached $77 million as of September 4. In response to the news that 3 out of the 5 wildfires were human-caused, Colorado Governor Jared Polis issued a statewide fire ban on August 19 in an effort to prevent additional fires. Specific restrictions differ by county, based on proximity to the fires. In Jefferson County, a Stage Two Fire Ban and Stage One Fire Restrictions have been enacted. These measures prohibit many items including bonfires, fireworks, and smoking outdoors. Although solid-fueled devices are explicitly prohibited, some liquid-fueled and gas-fueled devices are still allowed under certain conditions; the general limitation hinges on whether the fire is able to be “turned off ” rather than simply “put out.” Further information can be viewed on the Jefferson County Sheriff ’s Office website.

Pine Gulch:
Ignited by lightning on July 31, the Pine Gulch wildfire is located north of Grand Junction and extends through both Mesa and Garfield Counties. On August 27, Pine Gulch became the largest wildfire in Colorado history, and has currently consumed 139,007 acres (217 square miles) of land, which is larger than the city of Denver (155 square miles). Although environmentally devastating, the fire has not caused as many human fatalities as certain past wildfires due to the fact that it is predominantly burning in remote, rough terrain. Due to effective containment measures, the Pine Gulch fire has been 95% contained and the fire management team is optimistic that the wildfire will not increase or move significantly at this point.

Cameron Peak:
Cameron Peak has burned 102,596 acres (160 square miles) since its inception on August 13 in Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forests. The cause is still being investigated but is presumed to be human-caused. This fire has the lowest containment at only 4% to date. It is located west of Fort Collins in Larimer county and has recently reached the timberline in Rawah Wilderness in one direction, which is expected to form a natural barrier and restrict further growth, but it continues to grow on the south and west sides. The fire entered Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP) on September 5 and since then has burned 11 square miles in the park. Closures have been enacted in Roosevelt National Forest as well as in the remote northwest portion of RMNP, but all roads through the park remain open. So far, the fire has destroyed 54 buildings, including 25 homes. Colorado Highway 14 has been closed from Rustic to Gould and evacuations of campgrounds and other spaces remain in place.

Grizzly Creek:
This wildfire is burning in Glenwood Canyon in Eagle County and has currently spread to 32,464 acres (51 square miles). Despite lower area damage compared to Pine Gulch, the location has had a larger impact on people as it led to a 2-week closure of Interstate 70 from Glenwood Springs to Gypsum. Additionally, residents in both counties were put under pre-evacuation orders. The Grizzly Creek fire was first reported on August 10, unofficially started by either a popped tire or sparks created from a rim or dragging chains. Since then, it has been 91% contained, and as a result the pre-evacuation orders were lifted for residents in Coulture Creek and Buck Point Drive areas but remain instated for residents in Garfield County as of September 2. The fire has not grown for a few weeks and is expected to improve moving forward.

Williams Fork:
Located in Grand County south of Fraser, on County Road 30 near Hot Sulphur Springs, this fire is named after the nearby Williams Fork Reservoir. The wildfire was reported on August 14 and was determined to be human-caused. It is burning in both Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forests and has been 10% contained. Williams Fork is currently the smallest of the major wildfires at 12,157 acres (19 square miles) and there are no active evacuation or pre-evacuation orders in the area as containment measures have been increasingly successful.

Middle Fork:
Slightly smaller than Williams Fork, Middle Fork Fire has burned 4,795 acres (7 square miles) about 10 miles northeast of Steamboat Springs. It was ignited on September 6 by lightning. At this point, it is 0% contained. Fortunately, natural barriers exist both to the north and the east; an old burn scar and the Continental Divide, respectively. Winds tend to blow the fire in these directions, which could limit the spread. Thus far, no buildings have been damaged, but the fire is still in its early stages. To avoid possible losses, firefighters are identifying at-risk structures and enacting preventative measures. Fire management is hopeful that impending moisture and cooler temperatures will improve conditions and limit damage from this most recent fire.

After the steady rainfall at the end of August, all 4 wildfires remained stable, but increased dryness and wind predicted over the past few weeks caused additional growth. The recent snowfall improved conditions but the fires are expected to burn until there is a consistent weather shift towards increased steady precipitation. It is the responsibility of each individual to practice increased fire safety and obey regulations in order to keep both people and forests as safe as possible. Follow the statewide and county fire restrictions and be observant of conditions around you. As the fires vary in both intensity and containment and conditions can change rapidly, it is recommended to check an updated monitor before traveling to any of the affected areas.

This article was produced using information obtained from the Denver Post, Colorado Public Radio News, 9News, CO Division of Homeland Security & Emergency Management, Jeffco Sheriff’s Office Fire Restriction Bans, CBS Denver, and The Denver Channel, Fox21news.com, Vail Daily. Information was updated as of September 16. •

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