Cameron Peak fire tops 89,000 acres with only 4% containment, forcing more evacuations – The Denver Post

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The Cameron Peak fire just west of Fort Collins exploded to more than 89,000 acres Monday, forcing the U.S. Forest Service to close additional parts of the Roosevelt National Forest in Larimer County and order more evacuations. The fire was just 4% contained.

More evacuations were ordered Monday afternoon after the fire crossed Pingree Park Road. The Larimer County Sheriff’s Office said evacuations were mandatory on Colorado 14 from Stove Prairie Landing to Gateway Park for residents and businesses.

After staying relatively consistent in size after erupting about a month ago, the fire grew quickly over the last couple of days to more than 59,000 acres by Monday morning. It then roared to 89,312 acres — 139.55 square miles — by late Monday afternoon.

Alissa Tanner, a spokeswoman for the federal team managing the fire, said a flight Monday afternoon revealed how much the fire had expanded. The sizzling temperatures, wind and extreme low humidity set the stage for the rapid growth, prompting federal and county officials to warn people to get out of harm’s way as quickly as possible.

“There are definitely a lot of structures that are under threat, some imminent threat, some immediate threat and some further out,” Sheriff Justin Smith said about the growing number of evacuations over an increasingly broad area.

Smith and Chuck Russell, the deputy incident commander for the federal team, said the fire made about a 10-mile run in the last day or two.

“Overall, we’re holding our own right now. We are in a definite defensive posture,” Russell said.

An approaching cold front expected into Tuesday was forecast to bring freezing temperatures and snowfall of up to 6 inches in the Denver area and more in the mountains. However, there was concern that the winds expected to usher in the wintry weather could further fan the fire before the snow falls.

“We’re waiting and hope that we’re going to get the weather that’s going to come sooner rather than later and that the winds that are going to be previous to the event and right after, before we get the moisture, don’t affect us too terribly,” Russell said.

Inciweb

A map of the Cameron Peak fire perimeter and closures as of Sept. 6, 2020.

Depending on winds and temperatures, the wildfire is expected to spread even further into the forest, according to Paul Bruggink, a spokesman for the Cameron Peak fire team. It consumed an additional 10,000 acres of forest land on Saturday and at least as much Sunday while reports of smoke and ash reached south of Denver and into parts of Douglas County. Smoke plumes around the fire reportedly reached up to 40,000 feet into the air.

The blaze is now the fifth largest wildfire in Colorado history.

“It wasn’t totally unexpected,” Bruggink said of the fire’s reach and speed of its spread. More than 800 personnel are working the fire, mostly in structure protection, he said. Only an outhouse has been reportedly destroyed.

Crews from the Brighton, South Metro, Franktown and SableAltura fire departments joined the firefighters Monday. Russell said the federal team put out a call  Monday for 50 more fire engines.

A virtual community meeting was scheduled for 7:30 Monday night on the Cameron Peak Fire Facebook page.

Although fire crews hoped the freezing weather and snow moving in would tamp down the fire, they didn’t expect it to extinguish the flames.

“We won’t call it a season-ending event,” Bruggink said. “We would need a bunch of those.”


The area now closed is all National Forest System lands west of the Roosevelt National Forest boundary, east of the Colorado State Forest State Park, south of County Road 80 C, and north of Rocky Mountain National Park and Colorado 34.

The National Weather Service said the approaching winter storm could break a 148-year-old record for the largest temperature change in a 24-hour period in Denver. That record, set in January 1872, was a 66-degree dive. Tuesday’s storm could see a drop of as much as 70 degrees in just six hours, according to meteorologist Evan Direnzo with the service’s Boulder office.

The forecast calls for as much as 14 inches of snow in the foothills and mountains west of Boulder with the Interstate 25 corridor through Denver expecting as much as 6 inches of wet, heavy snow.

In contrast, the weather service said Denver on Monday recorded its 73rd day of the year with a high temperature of at least 90 degrees, tying a record set in 2012. On average, Sept. 4 is the latest day of the year with a high of at least 90 degrees.

The Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment on Monday said the air quality in metro Denver was unhealthy, warning of “premature mortality in people with cardiopulmonary disease and older adults … (and) increased respiratory effects in (the) general population.”  A city webcam just north of downtown Fort Collins showed that the smoke was so thick shortly after noon that it looked like evening.

The eastward-moving fire on Sunday caused the Larimer County Sheriff’s Office to issue evacuation orders for parts of the county including areas near Red Feather Lakes. Parts of Rocky Mountain National Park were also closed, including Trail Ridge Road, because of smoke and poor visibility.

The sheriff’s office on Monday morning issued an immediate evacuation order for the Glacier View Meadows area east of the fire.

Across the rest of the state, wildfires were largely contained. The Pine Gulch fire north of Grand Junction was 87% contained, having consumed more than 139,000 acres. Officials there said a red-flag warning had been issued and the fire could flare up from windy and dry conditions ahead of the wintry weather bearing down overnight.

The Willams Fork fire that began in Henderson Mill west of Denver in the Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forests is only 10% contained, covering more than 12,000 acres. Officials there worried the blaze could spread from winds of the approaching cold weather.

A new fire, this one in Routt National Forest, 10 miles north of Steamboat Springs, flared up Sunday and by Monday covered about 137 acres of mixed conifers.


Wildfire map

Click markers for details, use buttons to change what wildfires are shown. Map data is automatically updated by government agencies and could lag real-time events. Incident types are numbered 1-5 — a type 1 incident is a large, complex wildfire affecting people and critical infrastructure, a type 5 incident is a small wildfire with few personnel involved. Find more information about incident types at the bottom of this page.

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