A series of large wildland fires are burning across Colorado due to severe drought conditions. Several of the fires have contributed to smoky conditions in Lake County, as well as last week’s two-day closure of Independence Pass.
According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, the entire state of Colorado is currently experiencing some level of abnormal dryness. And over half Colorado’s counties, primarily in the southern half of the state, are experiencing severe or extreme drought conditions. Lake County was classified as experiencing moderate drought conditions as of Aug. 11.
The Grizzly Creek Fire started in the median of I-70 in Glenwood Canyon on August 10, likely due to a popped tire or sparks from a rim or chains. As of August 18, the fire had burned over 25,000 acres in and around Glenwood Canyon amidst hot and windy conditions. The fire, which is raging across steep, inaccessible terrain, was at 0% containment as of Tuesday afternoon.
Leadville/Lake County Fire-Rescue (LLCFR) firefighters John Ortiz, Alex Conlin and Fritz Rogowski are currently deployed at the Grizzly Creek Fire on the agency’s Type 6 Engine.
A 57-mile stretch of I-70 between Gypsum and Glenwood Springs has been closed since early last week due to the fire, causing many travelers and truck drivers to take alternative routes through the mountains.
On Aug. 12, Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) closed the Independence Pass segment of Colo. 82 after multiple commercial motor vehicles (CMVs) and vehicles towing trailers became stuck on the pass. CDOT reopened the pass to passenger vehicles and an alternating traffic flow on Friday afternoon after a two-day closure.
As of Aug. 18, CMVs and camper trailers still were not allowed on the stretch of highway, which, according to CDOT, is seeing a heightened presence of law enforcement.
The Pine Gulch Fire, the largest active wildfire in the state, is currently burning north of Grand Junction. LLCFR firefighters Dave McCann and Bo Knickman are currently working on the Pine Gulch Fire with the agency’s tactical tender.
The Williams Fork Fire, a human-caused blaze, is burning close to Fraser and the Cameron Peak Fire is burning east of Walden.
According to the U.S. Forest Service Wildland Fire Air Quality Response Program, areas east of Glenwood Springs, including Leadville, are experiencing hazy, smoky conditions from a combination of the state’s wildland fires.
A Stage 1 Burn Ban is in now effect for Lake County. The ban prohibits open flames outside of permanent fire rings in developed recreation sites and smoking outside, amidst other regulations.