© 2024
NPR for Northern Colorado
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Latest Updates: Cameron Peak Fire Grows Past 120,000 Acres, Burns Structures Along Hwy 14

Sunday, Sept. 27, 2020 at 2:33 p.m.

Heavy, sustained winds Saturday afternoon caused the Cameron Peak Fire to grow to more than 120,000 acres. The fire's new growth claimed structures near Rustic along Highway 14, and it moved into the Shambhala Mountain Center's campus south of Red Feather Lakes, according to fire officials.

The incident management team's Cory Carlson said given the extreme weather, the day could have been worse.

“I would say all in all, for the 65-mile-an-hour winds we had out there and the conditions I feel like today was fairly successful,” Carlson said.

Mandatory evacuation orders remain in place for communities in and around Red Feather Lakes.

The fire is now the third largest in Colorado's recorded history, just below 2002's Hayman Fire for total acreage burned. The fire's growth Saturday led to diminished air quality across the Front Range, as smoke from both the Cameron Peak and the Mullen Fire in southern Wyoming blanketed the region.

Monday, Sept. 21, 2020 at 11:31 a.m.

The Cameron Peak Fire continued to grow over the weekend, prompting further evacuation orders.

Larimer County Sheriff’s Office issued new mandatory evacuations for residents in Red Feather and Crystal Lakes. Glacier View is under a voluntary evacuation order.

Firefighters say high winds caused the increased fire activity, and helped the fire grow another 1,500 acres on Sunday, jumping containment lines. Weather conditions Monday are expected to make firefighting difficult.

The fire is now at 104,157 acres and 15% containment. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment has issued air quality alerts for the Front Range. Heavy smoke will mainly impact Weld County and southeastern Larimer County including Greeley and Fort Collins.

Tuesday, Sept. 15 at 11:42 a.m.

The Larimer County Sheriff’s Office has lifted an evacuation order for Glacier View, northwest of Fort Collins. The area just outside Red Feather Lakes had been under voluntary evacuation since Labor Day weekend due to the Cameron Peak Fire.

Nearby homes in Red Feather Lakes, Crystal Lakes and the Shambhala Mountain Center are still under voluntary evacuation orders.

The fire is expected to see renewed activity this week with warmer temperatures, while crews are constructing containment lines. It’s burned 102,596 acres and remains at 4% containment.

Monday, Sept. 14 at 4:30 p.m.

Fire officials are expecting the Cameron Peak Fire west of Fort Collins to see renewed activity this week with higher temperatures in the forecast. Last week’s snowstorm damped the flames and kept the fire from growing, but it’s not fully out.

Cory Carlson, with the Southwest Area Incident Management Team 3, says crews have been using the pause in fire activity to try and contain it.

“The total fire perimeter around this whole fire, we mapped it out yesterday, it’s 237 miles,” Carlson said during a Facebook Live update. “So to put that in perspective, that’s a ton of ground, and none of that is flat. And some of it we can’t even get people walking in it.”

Carlson says upwards of 100 miles of fire containment lines need to be built to begin to get a hold on the fire’s growth. Rugged terrain will prevent line construction from happening across the fire’s entire perimeter.

“There will be areas where we won’t be able to put people in there because of safety concerns,” Carlson said.

Increased smoke from the fire is likely this week.

Clear skies this past weekend allowed for a helicopter flight to take infrared images of the fire, Carlson said. Those images are being used to direct ground crews and heavy machinery.

Many areas near the burn area in Poudre Canyon, Big Thompson Canyon and Red Feather Lakes remain under mandatory and voluntary evacuation orders. Closures remain in place on many popular trails, campgrounds and roads throughout the National Forest land where the fire is burning. Nearly all trailheads off highway 14 in Poudre Canyon are closed.

The fire is currently the fifth largest in the state’s history. Fifty-four structures have burned.

Wednesday, Sept. 9 at 10:09 a.m.

Some residents who evacuated earlier this week are now heading home.

Sue Hewitt had been staying with family in Denver for several days, but says she’s confident the snow and cold weather will keep the fire at bay.

“I just want to get home,” said Hewitt, who lives in Glacier View Meadows. “I have the hope to think that this snow is going to slow the fire down enough and hopefully we won’t have to evacuate again.”

Firefighters spent most of Tuesday assessing damage in the burn area as several inches of snow covered the fire. No structures were reported destroyed. As of Wednesday morning, the fire remained at 102,596 acres in size.

Several evacuation centers are still open for residents and animals. The Ranch Events Complex in Loveland is holding dozens of horses, donkeys and other large farm animals.

On Tuesday, Sean Elsper helped his family move their four horses, Willie, Jet, Ropin’ and Delilah, into a temporary stable. He planned to keep them away from his family’s ranch in Rist Canyon for at least a week.

“The horses technically could go back up,” Elsper said. “But we’re going to wait and see what happens.”

Tuesday, Sept. 8 at 3:16 p.m.

Red Cross volunteer Lorraine Janson says her evacuation shelter in Laporte saw at least 130 families on Labor Day as the Cameron Peak Fire grew.

"Several of them had gone through the High Park Fire years back, and had rebuilt and they were back doing the same thing again," she said. "So they were really nervous as to, 'What are we going to go back home to this time?'"

The Red Cross is arranging hotel stays for those evacuated because of the pandemic. The team overseeing the fire response says the burn area has received measurable snow, and it should lessen fire activity for the next several days.

Snow covers rocks and a few trees along a shoreline
Luke Runyon / KUNC
Snow falls on Horsetooth Reservoir on Tuesday, Sept. 8.

Tuesday, Sept. 8 at 11:09 a.m.

Evacuation orders for the Red Feather and Crystal Lakes communities have been downgraded to voluntary. Rustic, Pingree Park, and Buckhorn Road remain on mandatory evacuation.

The Larimer County Sheriff’s Department said residents in the following communities are allowed to return home:

  • Crystal Lakes
  • Red Feather Lakes
  • Lady Moon
  • Red Feather Highlands
  • The Shambhala Center
  • All Glacier View Filings
  • All residents south of Highway 14 on County Road 27 from Stove Prairie Landing south to County Road 44H to include Stratton Park.

“Please be sure to have proper identification to show residency in those areas, as only residents will be allowed to enter,” the department said in an alert. “We ask that you use caution when driving through the area, as emergency crews are still present.”

Firefighters spent most of Tuesday morning assessing damage from the Cameron Peak Fire’s explosive growth over the holiday weekend. Paul Bruggink, public information officer for the fire’s response, said there have so far been no reports of structure damages.

“We have some accumulating snow, which is good,” Bruggink said. “The relative humidity is up, which really really helps.”

The fire has now grown to more than 102,000 acres, surpassing the size of the 2012 High Park Fire. It’s now Larimer County’s largest fire on record and the fourth largest in Colorado's history.

Incident commanders were mostly focused on making plans for when the current cold front moves out of the region later this week, Bruggink said.

“The snow is going to melt,” he said. “Gradual warm up is predicted and there’s still a lot of fuel that’s hot underneath that snow. We’re hoping we can get an infrared flight and find out where the hotspots are and plan out our activities from there.”

The Poudre Valley REA, the region’s electric co-op, announced it had cut power to more than 400 homes in the fire’s evacuation area.

“We don’t have an estimate for restoration at this time, but will keep members updated as we are able,” the co-op said in a tweet.

Monday, Sept. 7 at 6:47 p.m.

The Cameron Peak fire burning west of Fort Collins exploded in size over the holiday weekend, prompting new mandatory evacuations and blanketing most of Northern Colorado in a thick cloud of smoke.

On Monday, as the fire grew to more than 89,000 acres, the Larimer County Sheriff’s Department ordered residents in the Red Feather and Crystal Lakes communities to evacuate their homes due to “immediate and imminent danger.” The agency also issued several more voluntary evacuations for communities east of the fire.

“Fires like this can run until they run out of fuel,” said Larimer County Sheriff Justin Smith at a press conference Monday, where he urged residents to heed local evacuation orders. “We can’t afford to roll the dice.”

It wasn’t immediately clear exactly how many people were placed under evacuation orders, but Smith said it was likely “in the thousands.” No structures had burned as of Monday afternoon, but that could change, he added.

“This fire is very personal for everybody up there,” Smith said. “Between fires and floods they’ve been through a lot this past decade, but I’m hopeful. And with active structure protection I feel better.”

Sue Hewitt had spent the weekend following fire updates online and building a fire break around her home in the Glacier View Meadows neighborhood. When she got the evacuation order Monday, she rushed to put her black lab, Olive, and jack russell terrier, Arlo, in the car and drove south to stay with family in Denver.

“It looked like Armageddon,” Hewitt said. “The smoke was dark as dusk and I feel really lucky to have a place to stay.”

The fire ignited almost a month ago near Cameron Pass and Chambers Lake in the Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forests. Hot, dry and windy weather on top of an abundance of dry fuels in the area have been driving the fire’s growth in recent days, according to the fire’s incident management team.

Nearly 800 crew members were working to protect homes and other structures in the fire’s path Monday. Staff at Rocky Mountain National Park also closed Trail Ridge Road as the fire crossed into the park’s remote northern section.

“It kind of exploded the last couple days,” said Paul Bruggink, public information officer for Cameron Peak fire response. “We prepared for it the best we could.”

Farther east, residents of Fort Collins, Loveland and Greeley spent the long weekend under a thick cloud of smoke and ash. The material covered homes and cars across the region and forced many to seek shelter indoors.

Chris Keller, who lives near the foothills on the city’s west side, spent all weekend inside. He said he and his girlfriend were thinking about driving to stay with family in Lincoln, Nebraska.

“This fire as well as quarantine has put a damper on everything,” Keller said. “I don’t expect the fire to come into town, but I’m just trying to take whatever precautions.”

Relief could be in sight due to a forecasted cold front set to move into the region Monday night. Evan Direnzo, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, said Northern Colorado and the Denver metro area could see a temperature drop of up to 70 degrees.

“Snowfall is one of the best things to help put (the fire) out,” Direnzo said. “As the cold front comes through, it’s going to knock the plume out of the area so we shouldn’t see as bad impacts on air quality hopefully.”

The I-25 corridor north of Denver could see between 3-6 inches of snow on Tuesday. The foothills could see between 8-14 inches, Direnzo said.

Chuck Russell, deputy incident commander for the Cameron Peak response, said the snow should give firefighters much-needed time to protect more structures.

“However, it's not going to put it out,” Russell said. “There’s still going to be a lot of work to do.”

I cover a wide range of issues within Colorado’s dynamic economy including energy, labor, housing, beer, marijuana, elections and other general assignment stories.
As KUNC’s managing editor and reporter covering the Colorado River Basin, I dig into stories that show how water issues can both unite and divide communities throughout the Western U.S. I edit and produce feature stories for KUNC and a network of public media stations in Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, New Mexico, Arizona, California and Nevada.
Related Content