GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colo. – The Grizzly Creek Fire burning near Glenwood Canyon was 29,732 acres in size, with 11% containment, as of Thursday evening, growing about 700 acres from Wednesday's estimates.
The wildfire, which first started along I-70 in Glenwood Canyon on Aug. 10, is the top firefighting priority in the nation, Colorado’s governor and public safety executive director said Tuesday.
On Tuesday night, the National Multi Agency Coordinating Group elevated the National Preparedness Level to 5 – the highest level.
“PL5 is the highest level of wildland fire activity. Several geographic areas are experiencing large, complex wildland fire incidents, which have the potential to exhaust national wildland firefighting resources. At least 80 percent of the country’s IMTs and wildland firefighting personnel are committed to wildland fire incidents. At this level, all fire-qualified employees become available for wildfire response,” the National Interagency Fire Center said.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) on Wednesday afternoon authorized Colorado’s request for a federal Fire Management Assistance Grant, which was requested earlier in the morning, and will allow for 75% of state firefighting costs to be paid from FEMA funds.
“These grants do not provide assistance to individual home or business owners and do not cover other infrastructure damage caused by the fire,” FEMA said in a release.
The agency said that the fire was threatening more than 4,258 homes, with 162 currently under mandatory evacuation orders and 890 building that are currently threatened.
Now that the FMAG has been authorized, the state will also be eligible for Hazard Mitigation Grant Program funding for post-fire related hazards and further mitigation.
White River National Forest crews flew over Hanging Lake again on Wednesday night to take more photos of the area.
“We know the fire burned through some of the lower trail, but we haven’t yet assessed how much it was impacted. We will share what we find out once we are able to do that,” said White River National Forest spokesperson David Boyd.
The Grizzly Creek Fire grew about 1,700 acres on Tuesday and overnight – holding on the east side of No Name Creek, but spreading within the Grizzly Creek drainage, fire officials said Wednesday morning.
Firefighters continued work on a fire line on the Transfer Trail, which is now two-thirds of the way to Windy Point and which crews expected to finish on Wednesday. They also nearly finished a fire line above the French Creek drainage and another line from I-70 north to Coffee Pot Road as contingency plans for if the fire escapes its current perimeter.
Officials said firefighters would continue to focus on the ridges around Spruce Creek and Bair Ranch to remove fuels and protect structures, as the potential for the fire to spot in the area remains high.
Xcel Energy is replacing power poles and lines east of the No Name area that were burned in the fire.
Fire officials said there is the potential for dry lightning and gusting winds over the next couple of days.
Red flag warnings and air quality alerts are again in effect for the area on Wednesday, with winds expected to be in the 10 to 20 miles per hour range and gusting up to 30 or 40 mph, with some stronger downburst winds possible, according to the National Weather Service.
There are 820 personnel on the fire as of Wednesday morning, including 18 helicopters, 17 engines, 43 water tenders and seven bulldozers.
Stage 2 Fire Restrictions remain in place, and the governor is expected to release his order for a 30-day fire ban on Wednesday, which will go into effect Thursday morning, his office said.
The Grizzly Creek Fire is one of four major fires currently burning in Colorado that have already scorched more than 175,000 acres of land. The Pine Gulch Fire burning near Grand Junction is now the second-largest in state history, at 125,108 acres as of Wednesday morning after producing lightning and dropping ash across the Western Slope overnight.
The Grizzly Creek Fire shut down I-70 from Glenwood Springs to Gypsum Aug. 10, and the interstate has remained closed since then in that area.
The workaround for most drivers is U.S. 50 east to U.S. 285 for those coming east from Grand Junction, and CO 9 to U.S. 285 south to U.S. 50 for westbound drivers, or CO 91 to U.S. 24 to U.S. 50 westbound.
During a virtual news conference Thursday afternoon, Shoshana Lew, the CDOT executive director, said the department was "looking at days, not weeks" for the reopening of the interstate through the canyon as she urged travelers to not attempt to drive through the I-70 closure, while at the same time advising drivers to not use navigation apps, as these could derail people to areas where their vehicles might not be suitable to access.
"Within a week is what we're looking at and hopefully not more," Shoshana said, warning that conditions could change in an instant depending on weather.
Meanwhile, Michael Goolsby, the CDOT regional transportation director for northwest Colorado, said this was the longest closure of Glenwood Canyon since he's worked at the department. The canyon was closed for an extended periods of time not lasting more than seven days in the past, he said.
The Bureau of Land Management has closed recreational sites and boat ramps on the southern side of the Colorado River near Dotsero, including the Cottonwood Landing ramp, Lyons campground and ramp, and the Dotsero ramp.
Forest Service Road 400 is also closed after drivers mistook it as an optional other route and got stuck or crashed. Cottonwood Pass Road remains closed, as do Coffee Pot Road, Transfer Trail and Clinetop Mesa roads.
Hanging Lake, a popular trail and natural area near Glenwood Springs, was not impacted by the fire, though officials said the fire did burn intensely above and around it.
CDOT's chief engineer, Stephen Harelson, said during the virtual news conference on Thursday the big concern now for crew are debris flows, which allows for soil in the canyon to destabilize.
"If we get big rain storms through fall, winter, we'll have to monitor that."