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What Happened With The Grizzly Creek Fire Over The Weekend?

Aug 17, 2020

It’s been a week since the Grizzly Creek Fire first sparked in Glenwood Canyon. In the last seven days, the fire has burned 25,007 acres and is 0% contained. There were no new evacuation orders announced over the weekend, and as of Sunday, nearly 650 people were battling the fire. 

What happened over the weekend with the fire? 

The number of people battling the blaze is almost double the amount that were working on Friday. Personnel are arriving from all over the nation to join firefighting efforts.

They were hard at work over the weekend, focusing on the creation of containment lines – areas where brush and debris are cleared, leaving only mineral soil and eliminating potential fuel for the fire. A lot of those containment efforts are focused on keeping the fire away from buildings, and stopping it from spreading out of canyons and drainages. 

Weather conditions over the weekend were mixed. High temperatures and direct sun were conducive to fire spread, but calm wind conditions on Sunday allowed firefighters to make good progress in some areas.

In peak wildfire season, do Grizzly Creek crews have to share resources with the Pine Gulch Fire to the west? 

The Pine Gulch fire is burning north of Grand Junction. At more than 80,000 acres, it’s the fourth largest wildfire in Colorado history – and still growing.The crews battling the Grizzly Creek Fire are sharing aircraft with the crews working Pine Gulch. Both fires are expected to keep burning for a while. 

As other fires pop up across the west and across the country, it will be harder to get a hold of national firefighting resources – meaning more competition for everything from helicopters to hotshot crews.

What’s the difference between this fire and the Lake Christine Fire that sparked above Basalt two summers ago? 

The Grizzly Creek Fire is now more than twice the size of The Lake Christine fire. But the major difference is that Lake Christine was threatening homes and buildings not long after it started. It burned right nearby heavily populated areas and was relatively easy for firefighters to access.

The opposite is true for the Grizzly Creek Fire. It’s large and growing quickly, but it’s doing so in rugged, rural terrain that isn’t too close to highly populated areas. The fire is mostly concentrated in and around Glenwood Canyon between Glenwood Springs and Dotsero, an area where houses and buildings are few and far between. 

This map, released on August 16, shows the Grizzly Creek Fire progressing eastward and out of Glenwood Canyon into rural, rugged terrain.
Credit U.S. Forest Service

While a small number of rural communities have been evacuated, the fire looks like it’s mostly moving north and east, and further away from Glenwood Springs. 

Fire managers said wind direction and rocky terrain will likely make it difficult for the Grizzly Creek Fire to make westward progress toward people and buildings in Glenwood Springs. In other directions, there is still a lot of land between the fire and most populated places.

But those factors also make the Grizzly Creek Fire hard to fight. It’s rugged terrain that’s difficult to get to and even when firefighters do get there, a lot of their ground work is tough near steep canyon walls.

One of the major effects we’ve seen from the Grizzly Creek Fire is the I-70 closure. Do we know when the road might open back up? 

Right now, there’s not a set timeline for the I-70 reopening. Gov. Jared Polis was in the area on Friday to meet with fire officials and said I-70 could open early this week. But there is still plenty that could change with fire behavior and weather conditions. 

A section of I-70 in Glenwood Canyon that was damaged during the Grizzly Creek Fire.
Credit U.S. Forest Service

“We all want it,” said White River National Forest Supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams in Sunday’s briefing to the public. “We recognize this is a huge huge impact to our communities – to the West Slope, to the economies, to commerce. It’s a really high priority. But we have to have a few things happen and then eventually the decision of highway patrol and CDOT [ Colorado Department of Transportation].”

Fitzwilliams said that even if the fire is contained in Glenwood Canyon, that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily safe to open I-70 back up. Crews will need some time to inspect bridges that could have been damaged by the fire,  and there’s an increased risk of rockslides in places where the fire burned away plants. 

Do fire managers have a good idea of when this might stop burning?

Right now, there’s not really a projection for how long it will take to stop this fire. Fire managers have said numerous times that it will be here for a while. 

The weather likely won’t help slow the fire down either. For the next couple of days, it will stay hot and dry with long-range forecasts showing the area is in for more of those conditions for the next few weeks and months.

“I did not want to paint this rosy picture,” said Incident Commander Marty Adell during the community meeting. “I want to make sure that we know what we’re looking at. I wanted to let you know, as the citizenry of this area, that this will continue to burn for some time. There’s a lot of fuel out there, the weather is setting up not exactly in our favor.”

There is a 30% chance of thunderstorms Wednesday and Thursday. Fire managers say that could increase humidity and potentially bring rain. Storms are probably more of a problem than a solution, as gusty winds could keep blowing the fire out of the canyon and help it spread further.