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Thanks to snow and additional resources, firefighters can launch 'more direct' attack on Cameron Peak Fire

5 inches of snow fell on northern end of fire Tuesday
Cameron Peak Fire snow_Sept 9 2020
Posted at 9:34 AM, Sep 09, 2020
and last updated 2020-09-10 14:31:53-04

UPDATE (12:30 p.m., Thursday, Sept. 10): Crews on the Cameron Peak Fire on Thursday were planning to do damage assessment as the fire stayed steady at 102,596 acres burned and 4% contained.

The weather was expected to be slightly warmer Thursday, though there was a chance for snow showers later in the day and wind was expected to be light.

Click here to read the latest on the Cameron Peak Fire.

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LARIMER COUNTY, Colo. — Between 8 and 14 inches of heavy, wet snow fell on the Cameron Peak Fire Tuesday and overnight into Wednesday, according to fire officials.

Cass Cairns, spokesperson with the Cameron Peak Fire, said Wednesday morning the snow had accumulated at the fire, keeping the ground and most fuels damp.

The fire has not grown since the snow started Tuesday, she said. It's currently 102,596 acres and 4% contained. The fire won't likely grow much in the coming days as the snow melts. It's not clear how the snow affected the fire's perimeter since, for the most part, crews were not able to get near the fire Tuesday and aerial crews couldn't fly over it.

Cairns said flurries will fall over the fire Wednesday, but they won't see the dumping that happened Tuesday. Winds will stay relatively calm in the area as well, though there is some concern about snags coming down, she said.

Fire crews weren't able to get close to the fire on Tuesday, so that is the goal today — to get an idea of where the fire's hottest areas are, Cairns said. This will include planning containment lines on the northern and eastern edges of the fire, including the Green Ridge, Highway 14, Pingree Park Road and Buckhorn Road areas. She said there's a strong possibility firefighters will be able to get right up to the fire's perimeter in some of those places.

The wet snow made travel on the roads difficult on Tuesday.

Crews are preparing for warmer temperatures that will arrive Friday into next week, and are taking full advantage of this cold, wet weather, she said.

In a Tuesday evening update on the fire's Facebook page, Planning Operations Section Chief Tom Barter said because the three other large wildfires in Colorado have started to decline, resources are being diverted from those areas to the Cameron Peak Fire. Prior to that, fire officials had to rank priorities and possible success rate to determine where to send the resources, Barter said.

Cairns said they gained a "surge force" of 48 engines and two more hand crews. There were 1,057 personnel working the fire as of early Wednesday afternoon.

"We're now getting more resources, we're getting some moderate weather and this fire is in some other terrain that's a little more favorable for us to get to," Barter said. "So we will be looking at other areas where we can get more direct on this thing."

Cory Carlson, planning operations trainee, said crews on the south side are working with personnel from Rocky Mountain National Park, the Estes Valley Fire Department, Estes Park Police Department and Larimer County Sheriff's Office to hone in on the values that are at risk and prepare a plan to protect them.

He said as the weather breaks and additional crews arrive, fire officials will monitor conditions and put crews out around the fire, as long as it is safe to do so.

Cameron Peak Fire map_Sept 9 2020

The Cameron Peak Fire saw massive growth Monday, particularly in its northeastern section, and grew more than 40,000 acres ahead of the cold front.

By the time snow started to creep in Monday evening, the fire was about 96,000 acres.

Cameron Peak Fire officials said Monday evening that some structures in Monument Gulch had been damaged or destroyed in the fire on Monday, but the extent of the damage is unclear until a survey can be completed. Larimer County Sheriff Justin Smith said this information likely wouldn't be available Tuesday.

On Wednesday, the sheriff’s office sent out an alert saying that damage assessment teams would start looking at structures on Highway 14 Thursday and move on toward Monument Gulch in coming days if they are able.

The alert said there are numerous downed power lines, trees and other hazards making it hard for crews to access the area.

On Tuesday, Paul Bruggink, a spokesperson for the Cameron Peak Fire, said the snow would help firefighters “tremendously” as humidity levels rise and the fuels on the ground soak up the moisture.

He said that crews on the ground had reported accumulating snow on the forest floor, which won’t be enough to put the fire out, as the snow will melt.

He said some concern accompanied the snowfall for rock and mudslides in the event there is heavy runoff or rain in coming days. The concern over the wind chill will carry into Wednesday, he said.

“This will give us a couple days of reprieve,” Bruggink said. “It is not what we call a season-ending event, by any means.”

Late Tuesday morning, the Larimer County Sheriff’s Office downgraded areas from mandatory to voluntary evacuations. See the evacuation map below or click here to open it on a new page.

Credentials for residents and property owners still in mandatory evacuation areas can pick up credentials Thursday and Friday from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. at Cache la Poudre Middle School. More details can be found here.

Multiple roads are closed in the area of the fire, including all National Forest System lands west of the National Forest boundary, east of the Colorado State Forest State Park, south of County Road 80 C, and north of Rocky Mountain Park and Highway 34.

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.

On Thursday morning, outbreak data from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment showed that 14 firefighters at the Cameron Peak Fire have tested positive for COVID-19.

READ MORE: How will the novel coronavirus change firefighting in Colorado?

The fire is now the fourth-largest in Colorado history – surpassing the High Park Fire that damaged hundreds of homes and killed one person in 2012 just east of where the Cameron Peak Fire is currently burning.

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. Spring Fire (2018): 108,045 acres
4. Cameron Peak Fire (2020): 102,596 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 2013 West Fork Complex is not included on this list because it was a series of different fires close to one another.)

The fire ignited on Aug. 13 in the Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forests near Cameron Pass and Chambers Lake. Its cause is under investigation. Fire officials said the estimated containment date is Oct. 31.

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