Grizzly Creek Fire update: Hot, dry weather perks up blaze, with smoke visible from interstate
Precipitation could provide an assist Tuesday with temperatures forecast to plunge
Firefighters remain locked in a clinch with the Grizzly Creek Fire nearly a month since it ignited, with the fire continuing to burn in hard-to-reach terrain well within the perimeter of the fire line.
“The fire really hasn’t budged in about a week,” said Tim Mowry with the Alaska Incident Management Team. “Things are looking good in that regard. This hot, dry weather, it shows fire managers and personnel where these areas are, these hot spots, so we can address them. They’re well within the perimeter and they don’t pose a threat.”
On Saturday, calls came in to emergency lines after people spotted smoke north of Interstate 70 in the No Name and Grizzly Creek drainages and in the Ike Creek drainage south of interstate on the southeast side of the fire, prompting a Facebook post alerting people not to call 911.
Helicopter drops were used Saturday to cool off the hot spots.
“We’ve been telling people, hot dry weather has just stimulated that,” Mowry said around 6 p.m. Saturday evening. “That’s going to continue until there’s some kind kind of significant rain or snow event. This hot, dry weather perks the fire up. When it finds those pockets of fuel, it creates smoke.”
The biggest threat to the 472 personnel still working the blaze, which remains 83% contained at 32,464 acres — nearly 51 square miles — is a new fire igniting.
Mowry said the Grizzly Creek team is prepped for initial attacks for any new fire starting, and advised backcountry users, residents and visitors to be vigilant with the fire danger so high.
The National Weather Service in Grand Junction has already issued a red flag warning for the Eagle and Glenwood Springs area from midnight Sunday to 8 p.m. Monday due to the high winds and extremely low relative humidity.
Winds are expected to increase on Monday with west winds gusting to 30-35 mph.
The downsizing process began Friday. The number of personnel working on the fire dropped below 500 for the first time since August 14 and will continue to shrink as fire managers release tactical resources no longer needed.
Adequate personnel will remain to continue searching for hot spots near the containment line, mopping up and patrolling, and being ready for initial attack.
There are now 472 personnel assigned to the fire, including seven crews and 29 engines.
Turning red to black
Fire crews should catch a break on Tuesday when snow and rain are predicted with temperatures plunging into the 40s after hitting 95 on Saturday. But even with some precipitation, Mowry said the team managing the fire expects it to drag on.
“The weather event that’s predicted, it’s going to be short-lived,” Mowry said. “It’s going to be a day, and it’s going to be more cold than snowy, calling for possible snow and a little rain. The cold temperature is the drastic change. It’s going to take significant rain or snow to put this thing out. It’s burned for almost a month and people are going to be seeing smoke for quite a while.”
And until that major weather event comes, Mowry said it will be difficult to turn the entire fire line from red to black, given the inaccessible terrain where the fire continues to fester.
“That red line, some of that area up in Grizzly Creek, we’re not going to put people in there. It’s too dangerous,” he said. “It hasn’t shown an inclination to really move out of there. It’s been tested by 40 mph wind, and now we’ve got this hot dry weather. It helps us see what this fire might want to do.”
While crews monitor the blaze in that drainage and let it take its natural course, three crews pounded away Saturday in the Cinnamon Creek drainage south of the interstate in the southeast corner of Garfield County.
“We’re hoping to get some more black line, but that’s really gnarly country,” Mowry said. “There are some aspen stands in there, and when the fire ran into them, it stalled out. They continue to peck away in there.”
The Glenwood Springs Post Independent contributed reporting.
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