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Cameron Peak Fire flares up overnight and Wednesday, triggering new evacuations

Highway 34 shut down between Loveland and Estes Park as of 3:30 p.m.
Cameron Peak Fire_Oct 14 2020_by Facebook user Chilly A. Willy
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Posted at 4:00 AM, Oct 14, 2020
and last updated 2020-10-14 23:05:28-04

FORT COLLINS, Colo. — High winds caused the Cameron Peak Fire to flare up and triggered new mandatory evacuations early Wednesday morning and afternoon.

Gusts up to 60 mph were reported overnight in the fire area, according to the National Weather Service. A high wind warning is in place from 2 a.m. to 12 p.m. Wednesday with a Red Flag Warning from 12 p.m. to 10 p.m. Winds are expected to be 45 to 60 mph with gusts up to 80 mph.

Firefighters face two particular areas of concern, according to Cameron Peak Fire officials. The fire has pushed five to 10 miles south and crossed Pingree Park Road on the southeast side of the fire near the Colorado State University Mountain Campus. Their main focus is on structure protection.

A spot fire also popped up on the northeast end of the fire south of Bellaire Lake. Their main concern is to keep the fire from crossing Manhatten Road.

Heavy smoke from the fire is affecting sections of Larimer County.

Shortly after 2 a.m. Wednesday, the Larimer County Sheriff's Office issued a voluntary evacuation for County Road 27 (the Buckhorn Road) from County Road 44H south to Masonville due to the increasing fire activity.

Within an hour, the evacuation became mandatory.

Around 8:40 a.m., the Larimer County Sheriff's Office issued a voluntary evacuation for Otter Road (Buckskin Heights) and County Road 52E from County Road 27 east, which includes County Road 41 and Stratton Park. Around the same time, the sheriff's office ordered mandatory evacuations for Glen Haven, Glen Haven Retreat, Storm Mountain and Palisade Mountain.

Around 2 p.m., fire officials ordered mandatory evacuations for residents and businesses in the Redstone Canyon area.

People living along County Road 44H from Pennock Pass east to County Road 27 were evacuated around 8 p.m. Tuesday because of the increased fire activity.

Just after 2:30 p.m., the sheriff’s office issued more mandatory evacuation orders for the Bobcat Ridge Natura Area, Masonville, Horsetooth Mountain Park, Overhill Drive, Milner Mountain, and all of Rist Canyon Road, including Stratton Park.

“All residents and business occupants should evacuate the area immediately and as quickly as possible due to immediate and imminent danger,” the sheriff’s office said in its evacuation notice.

Voluntary evacuations were also ordered for people in the area of Highway 34 from Drake to just west of the Dam Store.

Just before 3:30 p.m., the National Weather Service said that Highway 34 was being shut down in both directions between Loveland and Estes Park to help with evacuations.

The sheriff’s office just after 3 p.m. also ordered the voluntary evacuation of Lory State Park.

Lory State Park is under mandatory evacuation orders as of 4:45 p.m. Colorado Parks and Wildlife said just before 4 p.m. they were evacuating the park for the safety of visitors and staff.

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

The agency said equipment and valuable property from the park will be moved elsewhere.

An American Red Cross evacuation center has been opened at the Embassy Suites in Loveland, located at 4705 Clydesdale Parkway. The Red Cross has also set up a new phone line (800-417-0495) for evacuees to call for information. Those affected can also go to the Hilton Garden Inn at 821 E Harmony Rd. in Fort Collins, where volunteers will assist whoever is in need.

View the mandatory evacuations in the map below, or go here for the full list of evacuations and closures.

To sign up for emergency alerts in Larimer County, visit NOCO Alert's website here. For updates for people who have been forced to evacuate, text the word LCEVAC to 888777 from your cell phone.

Cass Cairns, the public information officer for the fire, said Wednesday afternoon that winds were gusting up to 60 to 70 miles per hour on Wednesday, making for a challenging day for firefighters. Cairns said the fire had crossed Pingree Park Road on Wednesday, but it was unclear how far it had moved.

The fire had burned into the burn scar from the 2012 High Park Fire over Labor Day weekend and was again burning in the same area Wednesday.

Cairns said the high winds were creating spotting on the fire Wednesday and that firefighters were keeping a close eye on whether they should disengage because of danger.

Warren Parks, who was forced to evacuate from Buckhorn Canyon, described the roller coaster people living in the area have gone through with the fire in recent weeks and how quickly it has moved and forced evacuations.

“It’s terrifying. The fire will sit and lull you into a false sense of security, and then you’ll get a wind event and it’s right on you,” Parks said. “So, you can watch maps, can watch updates and think you’re going to out-think the fire. When they tell you to get out, get out, because one wind event like this and it’s right on top of you and it might be too late to get out.”

He said people living in the area were tight-knit and communicating well but that the quick movement of the fire was terrifying to residents, who were all “working through it and helping each other and staying strong.”

“It looks like hell on earth,” Parks said. “…You can’t help but look at the smoke and wonder, ‘Is that ash from my house? Is that ash from my neighbors’ [house]?’”

Diana Hamilton, who was also evacuated from the same area, said she had been planning for such a fire ever since moving to the area 13 years ago. While she said she is worried, she also said she was looking on the bright side.

“In about five years’ time, the flowers will be amazing again. I can have my business again. There’s hope for the future; it’s not the end,” Hamilton said. “The whole community goes through it together."

Larimer County Department of Natural Resources said Horsetooth Mountain Open Space closed around 10 a.m. to the public.

Even with Wednesday morning's flare-up, containment remains at 56% and the fire grew by 596 acres to a total of 135,556 acres.

According to the incident management team for the fire, the fire was very active around 3:20 a.m. Wednesday. The fire's edge jumped Pingree Park Road near the Colorado State University campus in the area. It's expected to continue to move east Wednesday.

Wednesday will bring more critical fire weather, with dry, windy conditions that may increase the fire's spread, according to the NWS. Fire weather watches and warnings are in effect for the Denver metro area, southern foothills, South Park, Palmer Divide and parts of the eastern plains.

The fire was reported on Aug. 13 and the cause remains under investigation.

The Cameron Peak Fire is the third-largest in Colorado history. The state's 10 largest wildfires in history, ranked by acreage, are:
1. Pine Gulch Fire (2020): 139,007 acres
2. Hayman Fire (2002): 137,760 acres
3. Cameron Peak Fire (2020): 135,556 acres
4. Spring Fire (2018): 108,045 acres
5. High Park Fire (2012): 87,284 acres
6. Missionary Ridge Fire (2002): 72,962 acres
7. 416 Fire (2018): 54,000 acres
8. Bridger Fire (2008): 45,800 acres
9. Last Chance Fire (2012): 45,000 acres
10. Bear Springs/Callie Marie fires (2011): 44,662 acres
Note: The Rocky Mountain Area Coordination Center said the West Fork Complex fire, which burned a total of 109,632 acres in 2013, is not included on this list since it involved three separate fires.