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Colorado Wildfire Updates: Oct. 14-Oct. 18, 2020

Sunday, Oct. 18 updates

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9:30 p.m.

Forecasts show stronger winds in store for the start of the week, which could complicate the responses to several major wildfires burning along the Front Range.

On Sunday, colder weather helped stall the spread of the Cal-Wood Fire in Boulder County. At just under 9,000 acres, it is officially the county’s largest on record. Containment is at 15%.

A smaller fire farther west, the Lefthand Canyon Fire, ignited and grew to just over 300 acres, prompting evacuations for the town of Ward.

Mike Wagner, operations section chief for the Boulder County Sheriff’s Office, said his biggest concern heading into Monday was for potential growth along the Cal-Wood fire’s northern edge.

“There’s a lot of fuel availability in that area,” Wagner said during a press briefing Sunday night.

The Cal-Wood Fire has already destroyed at least 26 structures, Wagner said. Thousands of people remain under evacuation orders.

The Town of Lyons remains under a evacuation “warning,” meaning residents should be prepared to evacuate at a moment’s notice should the fire pick up.

10:03 a.m. - With colder temperatures, more moderate winds and higher humidity, fire officials are hopeful they can take more offensive actions on the Cameron Peak Fire Sunday.

Cameron peak 10-18-20
The Cameron Peak Fire's perimeter as of Saturday evening.

After another day with wind gusts over 60 miles per hour, the fire is now 203,253 acres, with 62% containment. It’s the largest fire in Colorado’s recorded history.

A spot fire that sparked just west of Horsetooth Mountain, and grew rapidly through grass and shrubland, remains a concern, Larimer County Sheriff Justin Smith said Saturday night during a briefing.

With calmer winds, additional air resources will be deployed, Paul Delmerico with the Rocky Mountain Incident Management team said

“With heavy equipment, ground crews and aerial resources, we’ll be successful in the lighter fuel types down in (the Masonville) area,” Delmerico said.

Heavy winds didn’t cause as much fire growth in areas near Glen Haven on Saturday, and crews were able to do structure protection work in Storm Mountain, The Retreat, Drake and Cedar Park, Smith said.

The fire’s encroachment on Horsetooth Mountain Park and its potential for growth near Loveland led to a series of recreational closures that remain in place Sunday.

Homes have burned during the fire’s expansion over the last five days, and assessment teams are expected to begin entering burned areas to tally structural damage. Homes were lost in The Retreat near Glen Haven, and in the upper reaches of Otter Road and Redstone Canyon as well, Smith wrote in a Facebook post.

“Today is a new day and I expect it to be a day for offensive firefighting,” Smith wrote.

Residents in Estes Park have seen some of their routes in and out of town closed this week as both the Cameron Peak and the new Cal-Wood Fire in Boulder County have grown rapidly. Residents and visitors should continue using Highway 36 to travel from Estes Park to Lyons.

9:45 a.m.

Hundreds of Boulder County residents living near the Cal-Wood Fire remain under mandatory evacuation orders.

As of Sunday morning, the fire was just under 9,000 acres and still growing, according to the Boulder County Office of Emergency Management.

The county also issued an “evacuation warning” Saturday night for the town of Lyons. In a statement, the county said there was a high possibility of a future evacuation for the town due to the fire.

“We cannot stress enough the importance to take the Evacuation Warning seriously,” the statement read. “Winds could create fast-moving fire activity in the direction of Lyons. The time to PREPARE and BE READY to leave immediately is NOW.”

Multiple roads remain closed around the burn area, including the following:

  • Olde Stage @ Lee Hill Drive
  • Lee Hill Drive @ Lefthand Canyon Drive
  • Broadway @ US 36
  • Neva Road @ US 36
  • Nelson Road @ US 36
  • St. Vrain @ US 36
  • Hygiene Road @ US 36
  • Overland Road @ CR 87
  • Overland Road @ Peak To Peak Highway (CO 72)
  • Lefthand Canyon Drive @ James Canyon Drive
  • Peak To Peak Highway (CO 72) @ CO 7
  • South St. Vrain @ Old South St. Vrain
  • Lefthand Canyon Drive @ US 36
  • US 36 @ CO 66

The cause of the fire is unknown. Resources were quickly deployed on Saturday and multiple slurry drops were made. Cooler weather and lighter winds are expected to help firefighters with their efforts on Sunday.


Saturday, Oct. 17 Updates

5:24 p.m. - Growth in Boulder County’s Cal-Wood Fire has caused a series of evacuations near Jamestown, as heavy winds caused the wildfire to explode to about 3,000 acres in size in a matter of hours Saturday afternoon.

The town of Jamestown is under an evacuation order, according to the Boulder County Office of Emergency Management. Residential areas along Highway 7 east of Allenspark are also under evacuation. Portions of Highway 36 north of the city of Boulder are closed, along with a reach of Highway 7. Boulder OEM has a full list of road closures.

To the north, Larimer County’s Cameron Peak Fire continued to burn through forested areas near Glen Haven and Masonville, and along Big Thompson Canyon due to 60 mile-per-hour wind gusts. New mandatory evacuation orders went into effect for areas east of Loveland near Devil’s Backbone. A broad reach of the foothills west of Fort Collins, from Stove Prairie to Masonville to Pinewood Reservoir, remain under evacuation.

By mid-afternoon Saturday, rangers with the Larimer County Department of Natural Resources were clearing parking areas on the east side of Horsetooth Reservoir, knocking on car hoods and rounding up hikers, telling them to leave.

As of Saturday night, fire officials put the Cameron Peak Fire's total size at more than 187,000 acres.

Growth on both the Cal-Wood and Cameron Peak fires prompted a plea from state transportation officials to drivers to avoid unnecessary trips in both Boulder and Larimer counties, to “allow emergency responders and evacuating residents to move as needed,” according to a Colorado Department of Transportation news release.

A captivating smoke plume blocked out blue skies in Boulder County, and led social media feeds across the Front Range to be filled with shots of billowing brown-gray smoke, a familiar sight in this year of record-breaking wildfires across the state.

In Grand County, north of Hot Sulphur Springs, the East Troublesome Fire also continued its growth. It’s now more than 11,000 acres, and caused Highway 125 to be closed.

The National Weather Service is forecasting a break in the winds Saturday evening.

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1:45 p.m. - Mandatory evacuations have been ordered for all of County Road 52E (Rist Canyon Road) from County Road 27 east to County Road 27E and for the area east of Glade Road from north of Mildred Lane to north of Spring Canyon Ranch Road.

The Cameron Peak Fire has grown another 4,000 acres bringing it to more than 187,000 acres.

12:32 p.m. - Popular recreation spots on the east side of Horsetooth Reservoir have closed due to Cameron Peak Fire growth today.

9:00 a.m. - The fire is more than 187,000 acres. The most recent survey of the area is in the image below.

campeakfire.jpg
Cameron Peak Fire Facebook
The most recent map of the Cameron Peak Fire based on an IR flight just before midnight last night. (10/17/2020)

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7:30 a.m. - Mandatory evacuations are in effect for Pinewood Reservoir to Flatiron Reservoir and County Road 29 east to County Road 27.

Voluntary evacuations have been issued from County Road 27 to Devil's Backbone north of Highway 34.

Because of active fire conditions throughout the night the Cameron Peak Fire has grown another 7,000 acres as of 6 a.m. and is currently more than 173,000 acres with 57% border containment.

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Friday, Oct. 16 Updates

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4:00 p.m. - More evacuations have been ordered for communities in the Big Thompson Canyon, including residents and businesses from the Dam Store to Soul Shine Road.

An area south of U.S. Highway 34 in the foothills west of Loveland, including Pinewood and Flatiron Reservoirs, is under voluntary evacuation.

Fire crews have also pulled out from residential areas near Glen Haven due to extreme fire activity this afternoon.

12:35 p.m. - A Red Flag warning is in effect for the Cameron Peak Fire burn area today and on Saturday. Crews are working against strong winds up to 60 miles per hour. Low humidity is another concern.

The conditions echo those of earlier this week when the fire exploded in size, according to the fire’s incident response team.

“Very similar to Wednesday,” said Paul Delmerico, the team’s operations section chief.

Weather radars showed large plumes of smoke forming early Friday afternoon. A plume from the new East Troublesome Fire near Granby was also visible.

The Larimer County Sheriff’s Office also ordered new mandatory evacuations for some residents in the Big Thompson Canyon.

Thornton Streeter, who lives north of Masonville, left home earlier this week and is staying at a hotel in Loveland. He and his neighbors are anxious to know if their homes have been damaged.

“None of us have been informed because it’s too dangerous,” Streeter said. “So it’s a waiting game.”

The Red Cross says it’s housing over 700 evacuees across Northern Colorado.

The Cameron Peak Fire has been burning since August and is the state’s largest wildfire on record. It is currently over 167,000 acres and 56% contained, according to the latest report.

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Thursday, Oct. 15 Updates

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3:08 p.m. - The Cameron Peak Fire’s explosive growth appeared to wane Thursday due to slower winds, though some mandatory evacuation orders remained in place for communities west of Horsetooth Reservoir and northeast of Estes Park.

Rocky Mountain National Park has expanded closures in the park’s northern section due to recent fire activity. They include the following:

  • Lawn Lake, Cow Creek, Black Canyon and Gem Lake trails
  • The Lumpy Ridge area
ROMO_FIRE_CameronPeakFire_ClosureArea_map_20201015.jpg
National Park Service

Groups of firefighters have focused on structure protection efforts in Glen Haven, Cedar Park and Estes Park, according to an update on the response team’s Facebook page. The team’s meteorologist is predicting a Red Flag warning will begin at 11 a.m. Friday.

Along the fire’s northern edge, which is more contained, the Larimer County Sheriff’s Office has downgraded voluntary evacuation orders for the following areas:

  • Crystal Lakes, Red Feather Lakes, Lady Moon, Red Feather Highlands and Hohnholz

10:48 a.m. - Firefighters are preparing for more potential growth in the Cameron Peak Fire over the next few days due to windy and warm weather conditions.

In a briefing posted to the fire’s Facebook page, Paul Delmerico with the Rocky Mountain Incident Management Team 1 said the focus will be on structure protection in Glen Haven, The Retreat, Storm Mountain, Cedar Park and Estes Park. Fire crews will also attempt to keep the fire from expanding across Buckhorn Road.

The fire’s more than 29,000 acre expansion Wednesday made it Colorado’s largest on record. It is currently at more than 164,000 acres, and is 56% contained.

2020_10_15-06.19.36.688-CDT.jpeg
Inciweb -- Cameron Peak Fire

Additional resources are arriving to residential areas currently under mandatory evacuation orders. At least 47 type 1 fire engines, 40 wildland fire engines and 500 ground crew personnel are being scattered throughout the area to keep the fire from damaging buildings, Delmerico said.

Wind gusts of more than 70 miles per hour tested containment lines in other parts of the fire, Delmerico said. A spot fire jumped the line near Red Feather Lakes, but stayed at less than an acre in size.

The Red Cross’ Northern Colorado chapter sheltered more than 500 evacuees Wednesday night.

By Thursday morning, Melissa Venable, the chapter’s executive director, said even more people had reached out for a place to stay.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if that number is closer to 600 at this point,” Venable said.

The organization’s services will remain open as long as mandatory evacuations are in place, according to Venable. Evacuees still looking for help should call 1-800-417-0495 or visit the Red Cross’ new evacuation center in Fort Collins.

Firefighters may get additional help from aircraft Thursday. Heavy winds had grounded helicopters and airplanes that drop retardant and act as surveillance for ground crews, but changing weather conditions could allow for more air support the rest of the week, Delmerico said.

The Forest Service announced Thursday morning it is closing the entire Canyon Lakes Ranger District of the Roosevelt National Forest due to the wildfire, including all campgrounds, trails, and Forest Service Roads in that district.

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Wednesday, Oct. 14 Updates

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9:08 p.m. - The Cameron Peak Fire is now Colorado’s largest wildfire on record.

A day of gusty, unpredictable winds through drought-plagued forests caused the fire to grow to more than 158,000 acres, expanding by more than 23,000 acres on Wednesday. It surpassed in size the Pine Gulch Fire outside Grand Junction, which set the record earlier this year at 139,000 acres.

Evacuations for residential areas near Horsetooth Reservoir, Lory State Park, Glen Haven, Rist Canyon and Masonville are likely to continue through Thursday, said Larimer County Sheriff Justin Smith during a virtual community meeting Wednesday evening.

The fire’s expansive growth damaged structures east of Colorado State University’s Mountain Campus, Smith said. The situation is still too dangerous to do a full assessment of damaged and destroyed buildings, but that could happen in the coming days if weather and fire conditions are more favorable, he said.

“This was an epic day for doing evacuations,” Smith said. Emergency officials were directing traffic around Horsetooth Reservoir this afternoon, trying to make way for evacuating residents.

“The way these winds were changing today, the ability of this thing to go any direction — that’s what was tough, if it hit any of these areas strong, there was going to be structures going and if people weren’t given a heads up, there was going to be loss of life,” Smith said.

Michelle Schwartz was one of the hundreds of people forced to leave their homes due to the fire’s expansive run. Schwartz lives near Horsetooth Reservoir with her five dogs, and rushed home to pack up a change of clothes and her pets when she heard it was quickly headed toward her neighborhood.

“It was dark and kind of ominous,” Schwartz said. “You could just taste the smoke. You didn’t know which direction it was coming from because it was pretty dark.”

Schwartz has lived in her home for 15 years, and this is her third mandatory evacuation due to nearby wildfires. She’s staying with friends in Fort Collins, and has boarded her dogs.

“The most important things are the animals, your loved ones, and your pictures. What else do you need? So it’s a good reminder of what’s most important,” she said.

cameron_peak_fire_map_20201014.jpeg
Rocky Mountain Incident Management Team
Cameron Peak Fire information map released Wednesday afternoon.

4:55 p.m. - Hundreds of people who live in and around Horsetooth Mountain Open Space, Masonville and Lory State Park are under mandatory evacuation orders.

As new orders were announced, cars lined up outside checkpoints staffed by emergency workers. A large, dark smoke plume reached across the foothills west of Fort Collins for much of the day, blocking out the sun and causing unhealthy air quality.

Cass Cairns, public information officer for the Cameron Peak Fire, told KUNC strong winds and extremely dry conditions led the fire to explode in size on Wednesday.

Firefighters have been attempting to form a perimeter around the flames, but extreme fire activity forced them to retreat to safer areas throughout the afternoon.

“Safety, safety, safety has been the most important thing,” Cairns said.

The fire’s incident management team will host a community briefing on Facebook at 7:30 p.m.

4:09 p.m. - The Larimer County Sheriff’s Office announced several new evacuation orders through late afternoon, including Lory State Park.

“Staff is working to alert any visitors inside the park of the immediate evacuation order,” Colorado Parks and Wildlife said in a statement. “At midday there were only four to five vehicles in the park as visitation has remained low due to the unhealthy smoke conditions.”

First responders also closed U.S. Highway 34 between Loveland and Estes Park to make way for emergency crews responding to the Cameron Peak Fire.

3:33 p.m. - The Red Cross has announced the location of a new evacuation site for Cameron Peak Fire evacuees. Residents can get help at the Courtyard Fort Collins located at 1200 Oakridge Dr. Volunteers will be on site to assist residents.

2:23 p.m. - Strong winds have fueled more growth on the Cameron Peak Fire in western Larimer County through the afternoon, prompting several power blackouts in communities closest to the fire’s southeastern edge.

The Poudre Valley REA said it had shut off power to homes in the Big Thompson Canyon at the request of the fire’s response team.

Estes Park Power and Communications also shut off power to some customers near Glen Haven and County Road 43, according to a post on the town’s Facebook page.

The Larimer County Sheriff’s Office announced additional mandatory evacuations for communities west of Horsetooth Reservoir, including Redstone Canyon, Bobcat Ridge Natural Area, Masonville, Horsetooth Mountain Park, County Road 52E (Rist Canyon Road) from County Road 27 east to County Road 27E (all of Rist Canyon including Stratton Park).

In response, the Red Cross has set up an additional evacuation center, according to the fire’s response team. Residents looking for assistance should call 970-481-1243 or 970-324-3211.

11:41 a.m. - The Larimer County Sheriff’s Office issued new mandatory evacuations Tuesday evening and Wednesday morning as strong winds fueled growth along the Cameron Peak Fire’s southeastern edge.

The new orders include residents and businesses in Glen Haven, Glen Haven Retreat and Otter Road (Buckskin Heights), along with several others.

High winds overnight pushed the fire five to 10 miles east of Colorado State University’s Mountain Campus, and the fire’s incident response team warned extreme winds could cause even more growth through the rest of the afternoon.

“We’re preparing to do whatever is necessary to provide some protection as we meet the challenges of the weather event today,” said Tim Daley, a trainee with the Rocky Mountain Type 1 team, during a morning update.

The fresh round of evacuations came a day after firefighters announced the fire had been more than 50% contained. The fire has been burning in western Larimer County for more than two months now and is currently over 135,000 acres.

In response to the fire’s continued growth, the county on Wednesday also shut down public access to Horsetooth Mountain Open Space.

Farther east, residents in Fort Collins and other communities in Northern Colorado, started their days with another smoke-filled sky.

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment issued an air quality alert for much of the region through Wednesday afternoon.

“Limit outdoor activity today, if possible,” the city of Fort Collins said in a tweet.