ESTES PARK, Colo. - The Fern Lake Fire in Rocky Mountain National Park has doubled in size, officials said Saturday evening.
The fire was pushed by 75 mph winds, throwing embers a mile in front of the fire and running 3 miles in 35 minutes. It was mapped at 3,584 acres Saturday, more than double the 1,515 acres mapped earlier.
Meanwhile the estimated containment of the fire was reduced from 40 percent to 20.
The number of personnel fighting the wildfire also increased dramatically Saturday, from 61 to 124. Three additional 20-person crews, 4 more engines, 2 water tenders and a type 1 incident management team are expected to join the fight Sunday.
“What we really need is snow. It would be great if we could get some good snowfall on this fire," Rocky Mountain National Park spokeswoman Terri Weaver said. "This area has not seen fire since the 1500s."
Fire crews were able to stop the fire from crossing Bear Lake Road Saturday. One personal cabin has been lost in the fire and the owner has been notified.
Approximately 1,100 evacuation notices to people living near Estes Park were sent out Saturday morning. Some of the notices were "be prepared to evacuate."
Evacuation Information, as of 10 p.m. Saturday:
- The Highway 66 corridor, including all adjacent streets, remains in evacuation. Power is still on in the Highway 66 corridor.
- Residents of High Drive and adjacent streets have been notified that they are now on pre-evacuation notice. The residents in this area may return home, presenting identification to law enforcement at the High Drive road block. No others will be allowed in the area.
- Residents who were evacuated earlier today from the west side of Mary's Lake Road and all adjacent streets are now allowed to return home and are on pre-evacuation notices. Access to the neighborhood is unrestricted.
- Pre-evacuation means that residents should be prepared to evacuate at any moment.
The evacuations began at 1:50 a.m. at the Moraine Park campground, according to John Schultz with the Larimer County Sheriff's Office.
Frank Lancaster, town administrator, tweeted Saturday morning that evacuees will be out of their homes for at least 24 to 36 hours.
"The fire grew rapidly until about four this morning, the winds started laying down, we were able to get an upper hand on it, RMNP spokeswoman Traci Weaver said. She called it "an unexpected wind event."
7NEWS Meteorologist Matt Makens said a high wind warning was issued for that area Friday at 1:53 p.m. with an effective time range of midnight Saturday through 11 a.m. Saturday.
Although the winds were drastically reduced Saturday, the weather still proved to be a hindrance for the efforts. At 10 a.m. Weaver announced that two heavy air tankers were expected to be coming from California to help.
It was later learned the air tankers were grounded by bad visibility in California and would not be coming Saturday.
Helitankers had also been ordered for the fire, but was unable to fly because of the winds. Another helicopter was seen flying Saturday by 7NEWS, but the aircraft's mission was unclear.
Despite the difficulties, Weaver said at her evening briefing that the firefighters were "cautiously optimistic" about the work they'd done. Specifically, she trumpeted that they were able to keep the fire from crossing Bear Lake Road.
"Despite a really difficult night last night we have made some progress today," she said.
Evacuees were told to go to Estes Park High School, according to the Larimer County Sheriff's Office. About 250 people showed up when the shelter opened but that dwindled to 50 people by 10 a..m., the American Red Cross reported.
Large animals may be taken to the Stanley Park fairgrounds.
The fire has been burning since Oct. 9 in steep, rugged terrain that includes beetle-killed trees which has limited firefighters' ability to fight the fire from the ground, officials said.
The fire may have started from an escaped campfire, Weaver said Saturday. She added that the campfire would have been illegal.
In response to the evacuations, The Salvation Army Emergency Disaster Services team will also be providing support for evacuees in Estes Park.
Members of the public affected by the fire may call 970-577-3716 for information on the fire.
Firefighters were moved off the fireline on Friday afternoon due to the risk of falling trees from high winds. Helicopters were also grounded on Friday because of the increased wind speed.
The winds were gusting at 74 mph at 3 a.m. in Larimer County said 24/7 Weather Meteorologist Maureen McCann. Conditions in the area have also been abnormally dry, she added.
The higher winds not only increased the main fire's behavior, the winds also started a spot fire in the southwest corner of the fire, west of the confluence of the Forest and Spruce Canyons.
Flying embers from that spot fire were creating additional spot fires on Friday.
The fire is burning near Fern Lake, west of Moraine Park on western edge of Estes Park. The fire forced the closure of the following trails/areas:
- The immediate area of western Moraine Park
- Fern Lake Road beyond the winter parking lot
- Fern Lake Trail all the way to Lake Helene (by The Pool, Fern Falls, Fern Lake, Odessa Lake to Helene)
- The Cub Lake Trail from the trailhead to The Pool
- The Mill Creek Trail from the Mill Creek Basin campsites to the Cub Lake Trail.
The east side of Rocky Mountain National Park is closed, although Fall River Visitor Center remains open from the west side.
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