Latest Updates: 'Fire Season Is Not Over,' Arapaho-Roosevelt National Forest To Remain Closed
Thursday, Oct. 29 Updates
1:30 p.m. - The Arapaho-Roosevelt National Forest will remain closed this weekend, with no expected reopening date in the near future.
Forest Service officials announced the closure on Oct. 20 as multiple wildfires grew rapidly across the northern Front Range. The closure includes all Forest Service lands in Grand, Clear Creek, Gilpin, Boulder, Larimer and Jefferson counties. Rocky Mountain National Park also remains closed.
The closure is a preventive measure to keep human activity in forested areas from igniting another large fire, which would require additional resources that are already strained, threaten more homes and send smoke plumes into communities that have had little relief in months, said Arapaho-Roosevelt forest supervisor Monte Williams, in a statement.
“We need to give these folks a break. We just can’t risk one more fire,” Williams said.
With warm and dry weather in the forecast, the potential for new fires to start and existing ones to grow is still there, Williams said. The Cameron Peak, Cal-Wood and East Troublesome fires are still burning under the snow, and officials have recorded new smoke and visible flames from within the existing fire perimeters. The Forest Service closure extends from the Colorado-Wyoming border south to Mount Evans.
“We are seeing conditions worse than 2012 when the Fern Lake Fire made a run through Rocky Mountain National Park toward Estes Park from under the snow in December,” Williams said. “Fire season is not over in northern Colorado.”
Fire restrictions initially went into effect in the Arapaho-Roosevelt National Forest in April, and have ratcheted up since then due to hot and dry conditions.
“Cameron Peak is suspected to be human-caused,” said Reghan Cloudman, a Forest Service spokesperson. “Even in times when we have fire restrictions in place these fires are starting.”
“For over two and a half months we’ve been fighting fires, and not small fires, these are big fires,” Cloudman said.
The six to 18 inches of snow that fell across Colorado this past weekend granted emergency officials the ability to lift or ease evacuation orders related to the fires. Much of Estes Park is no longer under evacuation orders, though a portion of the west Estes Valley is under voluntary evacuation. Residential areas near Masonville off Buckhorn Road and along Larimer County road 43 northwest of Drake have been downgraded to voluntary evacuation.
In Grand County, evacuation orders have eased around the perimeter of Grand Lake, and along the western shore of Shadow Mountain Lake.
Officials are warning returning residents to be prepared to evacuate again if extreme fire activity returns.
Wednesday, Oct. 28 Updates
11:45 a.m. - More than 200 homes have burned in the Cameron Peak Fire, according to damage assessments from the Larimer County Sheriff’s Office. 222 primary residences and cabins have been destroyed since the fire began in mid-August. In all, more than 440 structures have burned.
That puts the fire among the most destructive in Colorado’s recorded history. Both the Waldo Canyon and Black Forest Fires burned more homes when they flared up in 2012 and 2013, respectively.
Captain Joe Shellhammer with the Larimer County Sheriff’s Office is overseeing the damage assessment teams.
“We are going to recover from this,” Shellhammer said during a briefing Wednesday. “We are going to recover strong, and we’re going to come out of this way better than we were before.”
Full damage assessments for the East Troublesome Fire burning in Grand and Larimer counties are still underway. This week the Grand County Sheriff’s Office confirmed at least 100 homes have been destroyed, and said the number is likely to rise.
Monday, Oct. 26 Updates
8:00 p.m. - Larimer County’s mandatory evacuations from the “east side of County Road 27 from Masonville to the Stove Prairie School” have been downgraded to voluntary.
And n Grand County evacuation orders for Grand Lake and “areas on the east side of Highway 34 from County Rd 6 north to Mile Marker 14.5” are being downgraded to pre-evacuations.
The Highs And Lows Of Snow
This weekend’s snowfall is continuing to keep Colorado’s wildfires from growing and simultaneously keeping firefighters from working on containing them.
And there are a few other problems, like the fact that this snow isn’t wet enough.
“Most of the temperatures during the snowfall were anywhere from 10 to eight degrees. And that cold weather, what that does is that decreases the moisture content of the snow,” said East Troublesome Fire Incident Meteorologist Terry Lebo in a live Facebook update.
He explained that in some areas, this low moisture snow may evaporate rather than seep into the fuels that allow the fire to keep burning.
“Those are some negative factors, but again, we do have a lot of positive factors,” Lebo said. “There is going to be some melting in the sun and some absorption, especially the smaller, the finer fuels. And they're the ones that, I mean, we do have the heavies that are heavy fuels that are going to be holding the heat, but the small ones are going to be the ones that help carry the fire.”
And then there’s the fact that forecasts don’t predict major snowfall will follow this weekend’s storm anytime soon.
“It’s going to take more than just this one snowfall to bring us out of the drought and there must be prolonged moisture, which is not in the forecast,” the incident management team managing the Lefthand and CalWood Fires wrote on Facebook.
The snow that is keeping the fire from growing is expected to melt in many areas by mid-next week, Lebo said.
“So that is going to be some time where things that are smoldering still are sitting under the snow,” he said, noting another positive.
Containment of the East Troublesome Fire is only at 15%.
“Mother nature is going to put this fire out,” East Troublesome Fire incident commander Noel Livingston said. “We'll focus on the portions of the fire that are threats to at-risk communities, private lands, infrastructure.”
But the fire’s Northern flank and many higher elevation areas will not be contained by firefighters unless they threaten those kinds of important areas, he said. “(The fire’s perimeter) is a lot and we won't have fire line constructed all the way around this fire, the snow and winter weather will ultimately put out the last portions of this fire.”
Home And Structure Damage Updates
As of Sunday night, 434 structures have been confirmed as lost due to the Cameron Peak fire in Larimer County, per the county's Office of Emergency Management.
Damage assessments are still ongoing and the fire is just 64% contained, meaning those numbers could change as new structures are found or the fire grows. They can also go down a bit, numbers reported by the National Interagency Fire Center today were slightly inaccurate because the spreadsheet the OEM used to provide data to them accidentally included duplicates of some destroyed units.
Boulder sheriff’s office reports 24 structures damaged or destroyed by the CalWood Fire.
Grand County Sheriff Brett Schroetlin said on Sunday that the East Troublesome fire damaged many homes in Grand County, but his office isn’t ready to release concrete numbers.
“Our damage assessment teams started today from the state,” Schroetlin said during a Monday Press conference. “We're expecting maybe three to four days, depending on how the snow is for them. And so at the same time as that's happening, we'll be making these notifications (to homeowners.)”
His office has also ceased its efforts to bring teams of volunteer contractors to people's homes to prevent water damage from frozen pipes. Partially, he said, due to dangerous weather conditions and the fact that evacuations were eased or lifted in many areas today and Sunday, allowing people to take care of the issue themselves.
The other part of the stoppage is “starting this afternoon, we're having more and more people try to violate our roadblocks, blow around our road rocks and get into these damaged areas and going around and taking pictures of these houses,” Schroetlin said. “And so people are finding out about their houses on Facebook, on other mechanisms of social media, and it's unacceptable."
Deputies that may have been accompanying plumbers to check on homes are now spending their time preventing that behavior instead, he added.
“The one thing that you are going to see is a lot of our deputies and other agencies with patrol coverage along the West side of Highway 34, all up and down that West side of that Highway 34 corridor,” he said.
1:16 p.m. - The Grand County Sheriff's office has announced its plans for allowing people to re-enter areas on the east side of Highway 34, where evacuations have been lifted for several communities. In a Facebook post detailing the plan, the sheriff's office said roads would be reopened today at two separate times.
At 2:00 p.m. they’ll open “all areas south of the intersection of Highway 34 and County Road 6 east and west on both sides of the highway, including all areas of County Road 6. County Road 40 remains closed.”
And then at 4:00 p.m. they’ll open the “east side of Highway 34 north into the Town of Grand Lake will be open to just north of the Gateway Inn at Mile Marker 14.5. Residents will be allowed to access those areas east of Highway 34.”
Access to areas West of Highway 34 is still not available due to ongoing safety operations.
11:45 a.m. - Fire crews were successful in containing even more of the Cameron Peak Fire’s northern edge and finished containing the entirety of a spot fire near Horsetooth Mountain during the last 48 hours, the incident management team announced this morning in a Facebook update.
The fire is now 64% contained and is not expected to grow within the next few days thanks to the snow. In some parts of the fire, accumulated snowfall is as high as two feet.
But the snow still makes fire lines too treacherous for crews to continue containment work, said Operations Chief Paul Delmerico. And that may be a problem for two areas in particular: an area near the North Fork Trail where the East Troublesome Fire made a run south toward Glen Haven before the snowstorm and the part of the fire that is nearing the western border of Estes Park.
“Even though we have quite a bit of accumulation of snow in that area, our fuels are still very dry,” Delmerico said. “The next few days it’s going to warm and it’s going to dry up a bit. And we just want to make sure there are no more issues or concerns in that area, so we’ll be having folks monitor that.”
The rest of the East Troublesome Fire (15% contained) also saw up to a foot of snow accumulation in many areas. The Cal-Wood Fire (67% contained) received up to 13 inches in some parts too. Crews working these two fires and the Lefthand Canyon Fire (which is now fully contained) are not able to access the fire lines either.
Management teams repeatedly made clear that the snowfall will not put out much of the fires, just hold them in place. And they say they’re watching closely to ensure that they’re prepared for any unexpected growth.
Sunday, Oct. 25 updates
6:50 p.m. - As snow halts fire growth as well as containment work across Northern Colorado's massive wildfires, evacuation orders are being lifted in Larimer and Grand Counties on Sunday night.
In Grand County, pre-evacuation and full evacuation orders have been lifted for the following areas:
- The towns of Granby and Hot Sulfur Springs
- All areas south of Highway 40
- The south end of County Rd 21
- All areas south of Granby through Tabernash
Areas in Larimer County that saw mandatory evacuations downgraded to voluntary include:
- The Estes Valley east of the Marys Lake Road corridor
- East of the Elm Road corridor
- East of the Fall River Road corridor
Evacuation orders were lifted entirely “along both sides of County Road 27 from the Stove Prairie School north to Stove Prairie Landing.”
Property owners in the Stringtown, Moondance, Windsong, Windy Ridge, Owl Hollow and Crystal Mountain areas may have been notified by officials that their properties have been destroyed or damaged. Those people can bring insurance adjusters to look at their property with an escort on Wednesday and Thursday. More details here.
"Great news that gets a lot of you potentially back into your homes, potentially back into uninterrupted life," Grand County Sheriff Brett Schroetlin said of the lifted evacuations. "Just remember, wildfire country, So things can change at a moment's notice. Highly doubt it with snow on the ground today, but as the week does dry up, there's going to always be that potential."
Fire crews have stopped work around many parts of the East Troublesome Fire due to dangerously cold and snowy conditions. Despite crews being able to work for a few hours this morning before snow arrived, the fire is still 192,560 acres large and only 10% contained. Many areas of the fire are seeing two to four inches of accumulated snow.
“So you may not see the same amount of firefighters out on the fire lines as you have in the last several days, but know that they are still in the area,” Dan Quinonez, incident command trainee working the East Troublesome Fire, said in a Facebook briefing on Sunday night. “We're not going anywhere. And we know that this isn't an extended weather event that we're seeing, it's supposed to be wrapping itself up sometime Monday, tomorrow evening or mid-day.”
“We're going to be ready to see what the other side looks like,” he continued. “Re-engage and make sure that we're, we're protecting the values and the communities that we were sent here to do.”
He emphasized that as the winter storm stands now, it is not expected to beat back the East Troublesome or Williams Fork fires alone.
“It's going to do some really good work, but that's why we're going to remain here because we're going to need to help it along,” he said, noting that things could change at any moment and there is still a lot of uncertainty but “with the snow that we got, the shortened days and all the things that we have in our favor right now we're feeling really good about where the fire is at.”
2:20 p.m. - Snow and freezing conditions across Northern Colorado are expected to slow wildfire growth. While officials say that is a huge benefit, it also means firefighters are forced to stop working in many areas of the Cameron Peak Fire.
"The last thing we want to do is ask these folks to drive on these roads. And that causes a safety concern. We talk about public and firefighter safety, well now we have different conditions today in the form of snow,” said Paul Delmerico, Cameron Peak Operations Chief in a Facebook update. “We do have our overhead, which would be our division group supervisors and branch directors, out in these areas ensuring that all the infrastructure is still in place."
Crews from all over the country answered the call to assist with these wildfires. Cameron Peak crews have been dealing with the fire’s explosive growth for more than 70 days.
“We have a crew here from Puerto Rico currently,” Delmerico said. “I can almost guarantee that at least one person on that crew has never seen snow.”
He expects that the snowstorm will actually limit growth for several days, “and that’s great news for our firefighters on the ground.”
Cal-Wood and Lefthand Fire Crews are also stopping, the incident management team announced on Facebook today, “as the extremely cold temperatures, and sleet, and snow move through the fire area. Crews are being held in-place, ready to work if conditions allow. We'll be checking the area to assess road conditions throughout the day.”
While these conditions are celebrated for their effect on the fires, the weather could also create plumbing issues, like freezing pipes, which could damage evacuated homes.
In Grand County, more than 60 plumbing contractors are volunteering to check on homes and mitigate that risk, free of charge. This comes after two water districts in the county were shut down for the same reason.
The contractors aren’t just going door to door. Residents must request to have their property checked by filling out a Google form.
“The command post will then work with officers in the field along with those plumbing teams to reach out to you on a case-by-case basis, speak to you about what is exactly needed in your house, and the goal is to try to accomplish as many missions as possible within a short amount of time,” Grand County Sheriff Brett Schroetlin said in a press conference this morning. “Currently we’ve received about 1000 requests for this service since it was deployed midnight last night.”
Those “case-by-case” decisions ensure that contractors are only being sent to areas that carry minimal risk, he said, and their movements are being closely accounted for to keep them safe.
“It’s cold, it’s October, but yet we’re still fighting fire,” Schroetlin said. “Usually we take that water, we put it on fire to prevent that fire from spreading. What ends up happening now is we’re having fire issues and we’re having water issues.”
The sheriff's office has gotten a lot of contacts from people who want to get back into evacuated areas, he said.
“I understand you want to get back into your houses,” he said. “I fully understand that, I acknowledge that, I respect that. However based on the safety that’s going on up in our burn area, that just can’t happen at this time.”
Many homes in the parts of Grand County threatened by the East Troublesome Fire have been destroyed, he added.
“We need to work on that process of establishing contact with homeowners. It’s a very, very difficult process,” Schroetlin said. “Respect, it’s all about respect. I want to make sure that those people are respected very much, because that is their house, that is their home. And I want to make sure that we do that correctly.”
The Sheriff’s office does not have any concrete numbers on the total number of damaged structures yet, he added, explaining the public will be notified when they do.
One of the “good areas,” at least for now, is the town of Grand Lake proper and its many adjacent subdivisions, he said.
“We’re trying to figure out how to notify families, especially in the COVID world, of their homes being still standing or lost,” Schroetlin said.
The East Troublesome fire is more than 192 thousand acres large and only 10% contained. More than 10 inches of snow and cold temperatures across the region are expected to prevent meaningful fire growth going into this week.
11:37 a.m. - The Cameron Peak Fire is the first to see snowfall this morning, with an estimated 3 to 5 inches in the northernmost parts of the blaze, according to the incident management team.
“Lighter amounts as you go further to the South, the Southern portions of the fire, generally around two to four inches, so far,” said incident meteorologist Dan Byrd in a Facebook update. “Temperatures overnight are going to be very cold across the entire fire. Most of the fire will see conditions below zero tonight, probably around five to seven below zero, and then single-digit temperatures in the lower elevation."
The fire is currently 61% contained and has grown to 208,663 acres after making a 700 acre run toward Glen Haven last night.
“We did get some folks in there. We were able to get some aircraft for a short period of time today to do some bucket drops. And currently the last report I got was the fire was still two miles West of Glen Haven,” said Operations Chief Paul Delmerico.
The snowstorm and low temperatures might continue until Tuesday, when temperatures are expected to start climbing back up. Snowfall is expected this afternoon over the Cal-Wood (76% contained), Lefthand (100% contained) and East Troublesome (10% contained) Fires as the day goes on.
As of this morning, temperatures in the East Troublesome Fire area, which has grown to 192,560 acres, were still in the low 40s, meteorologist Byrd said. The fire made a run towards Estes Park on Saturday. By late in the day it had burned into the Moraine Park area of Rocky Mountain National Park, but it had not reached Bear Lake Road.
The fires could see between 10 to 18 inches of snow in total by Monday.
There is expected to be “very limited fire behavior” over the next 24 hours for all four fires thanks to the snowstorm, according to the Incident Information System.
“The only thing that's going to mitigate this fire spread and the imminent threats to all these infrastructures is going to be significant precipitation,” said Cameron Peak Operations Chief Paul Delmerico in an update last night.
“We'll take advantage of the weather while we can,” East Troublesome Fire incident commander Noel Livingston said, adding that planes were not able to fly and make bucket drops due to wind conditions on Saturday. He anticipated being able to do more today. “I anticipate a productive day.”
Despite the benefits, the snow could make containment work more difficult.
“If it does get to the point where roads become hazardous for travel, particularly for these heavy engines, we may adapt our operations today,” East Troublesome Fire incident commander Noel Livingston said. “But we are going to be out and about and ensuring that everything remains as is.”
“Snow, cold temperatures, and wind are creating unsafe wind chills, road conditions, and difficult access in many areas. When safe to do so, firefighters will continue reinforcement of established firelines,” the Cal-Wood And Lefthand Incident Management team wrote in an update.
In Grand County, two water districts have been shut down to try and mitigate freezing pipes in evacuated homes.
Lifted evacuations and closures
Closures have been lifted for Highway 7 in South St. Vrain Canyon and CO 14 from Fort Collins to Walden, though officials urge people not to use that road unless absolutely necessary.
The evacuation warning for the Meeker Park and Wild Basin areas in Boulder County has been lifted.
Despite the red flag warning issued for the Cal-Wood and Lefthand Fires yesterday, activity for both was minimal and containment for CalWood jumped 10% from Saturday morning.
Saturday, Oct. 24 Updates
4:06 p.m. - The Nederland evacuation center is closing due to a lack of activity. Evacuees are being directed to the Isle Casino Hotel Black Hawk. Boulder OEM says the Nederland center will reopen if the need arises.
Officials note that the evacuation warning for the East Troublesome Fire does not include Allenspark.
11:02 a.m. - The East Troublesome Fire has claimed the lives of Lyle and Marilyn Hileman. The couple aged 86 and 84, passed in their family home after refusing to evacuate. Their bodies were recovered yesterday evening and their identities announced in a brief from Sheriff Schroetlin.
Mandatory evacuations are ordered along Highway 34 from Estes Park to Drake due to the East Troublesome Fire conditions.
Cameron Peak Fire officials have lifted evacuations for the following areas:
- All of Redstone Canyon and Otter Road
- Highway 14 from Kelly Flats to the Larimer/Jackson County line
- Highway 14 north to County Road 86, County Road 103 north to the Tunnel Campground
- Old Roach (from the Mullen Fire)
Residents in these areas are no longer under any restrictions.
- The East Troublesome fire is more than 188,000 acres with 4% containment.
- The Cal-Wood Fire is more than 10,000 acres with 66% containment.
- The Cameron Peak Fire is more than 207,000 acres with 60% containment.
- Highway 14 has reopened between north of Fort Collins and Walden.
See previous Colorado wildfire updates from Oct. 19-23 here.