Eagle County blanketed with smoke, ash from Glenwood Canyon blaze | VailDaily.com

Eagle County blanketed with smoke, ash from Glenwood Canyon blaze

Fire quickly grew to 500 acres in steep, rough terrain, closing I-70 and creating long detours

The Grizzly Creek Fire burned during the summer of 2020 in Eagle and Garfield counties. The burn scar still contains the potential to create flooding and mudslides, according to the Colorado Department of Transportation and the National Weather Service.
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Don’t do this
  • The Colorado Department of Transportation urged travelers to follow the recommended detours around Glenwood Canyon caused by Monday’s Grizzly Creek fire.
  • Don’t take Cottonwood Pass between Glenwood Springs and Gypsum. There’s fire activity on that road, and it’s ill-suited for trucks.
  • Don’t take Independence Pass. That road is closed to most commercial vehicles.

Smoke Monday blanketed Eagle County due to a quickly growing wildfire in Glenwood Canyon. That fire closed Interstate 70 and forced travelers into long detours.

The fire started Monday about 1:30 p.m. on the north side of the interstate at mile marker 120, near the Grizzly Creek exit. By 4:30 p.m. the fire had exploded to more than 500 acres, and firefighting resources were being poured into the scene.

The Gypsum Fire Protection District sent three trucks — two trucks designed to fight brushfires and a water tender. In a phone call from the No Name incident command center, Gypsum Fire Chief Justin Kirkland said in addition to his presence, the department had “seven or eight” people on scene

The Greater Eagle Fire Protection District sent Division Chief Tim Lavin to the site, but no further manpower or equipment had been requested.

The fire was reported to be burning in steep, rugged terrain, meaning the most effective suppression efforts had to come from the air. Two “Very Large Air Tankers” — aircraft the size of Boeing 747 airliners — were dispatched, as well as large air tankers, helicopters and other resources.

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Meanwhile, prevailing west-to-east winds blew smoke from the fire into the Eagle River Valley. In Gypsum and Eagle, ash was starting to accumulate in the late afternoon.

Winds will continue

Those prevailing winds were expected to moderate Monday night. But Megan Stackhouse, a meteorologist in the Grand Junction office of the National Weather Service, said the wind will continue blow smoke from both the Grizzly Creek fire and the Pine Ridge fire near Grand Junction into the valley.

The large fire quickly prompted state transportation officials to close Interstate 70 from Dotsero to west of Glenwood Springs.

Whenever the canyon closes, motorists face one of two long detours.

One, to the north, requires motorists to drive north from Wolcott to Steamboat Springs, then west to Craig and south to Rifle. That detour is roughly 155 miles.

But that route was essentially closed, especially to commercial vehicles, due to construction on State Highway 13 between Rifle and Meeker.

The long southern route

Transportation officials were left to recommend a much longer detour to the south.

That route takes U.S. Highway 50 to Montrose, and then over Monarch Pass to Poncha Springs.

People driving to the Vail Valley would then take U.S. Highways 285 and 24 north through Leadville, then to Minturn. That detour is roughly 270 miles. Those headed to Summit County could go north to Leadville, then over Fremont Pass to Copper Mountain. Denver-bound drivers could also use Highway 285 to drive through Fairplay to the Denver area.

“We don’t make a recommended detour unless we see a real need for it,” Colorado Department of Transportation spokeswoman Elise Thatcher said. “We don’t do it for (closures) of just a couple of hours.”

The thick smoke, particularly in the western part of the valley, prompted Eagle County to issue a public health alert.

Randy Cohen of the Greater Eagle Fire Department said people who are sensitive to smoke should remain indoors and close windows.

If a home has air conditioning, use that. “The house might smell smoky, but it’ll cool you off,” Cohen said. Cohen added that people can use masks if they want to block the ash falling from the smoke.

Cohen also urged people to be extra-careful with fire right now.

“The smallest spark can cause something like this,” he said.

Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at smiller@vaildaily.com.

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