Smoke blankets mountain valleys as Grizzly Creek Fire expands beyond 25,000 acres
Local health and fire officials advise residents to remain indoors as much as possible
EAGLE COUNTY — After blue skies stretched to the horizon Sunday, smoke from the Grizzly Creek Fire again settled in the mountain valleys of Eagle and Garfield counties Monday.
And now, for the foreseeable future, we all need to get used to those smoke conditions according to a group of local public health and fire officials who assembled for a Zoom press conference Monday afternoon.
Yancey Ranspot, Air Quality Specialist for the USFS Type 1 Fire Team, said moderate to heavy smoke conditions are reported in western Colorado from the Pine Gulch and Grizzly Creek fires. Locally the heavy smoke is primarly from fire continuing to burn in thick fuel in the canyons and gullies along the north flank of the Grizzly Creek blaze, and those remote areas will continue to burn in the days and weeks ahead.
“Our forecast currently goes out four or five days and we have the same conditions going out into the future,” Ranspot said.
Jeff Surber, operations section chief for the Great Basin Type 1 Team, noted in his Monday morning briefing that fire burning in the area north of Interstate 70 in the Grizzly Creek region is too rugged for personnel to access and the best use of resources dictates that crews focus attention in more impactful areas.
“We would expect that this fire would continue to move north until rain or snow or whatever comes because we just can’t get down in there to work,” said Surber in his Facebook briefing.
The Grizzly Creek Fire was reported at 25,690 acres Monday afternoon with 0 containment. There are 647 personnel assigned to the blaze.
With increased smoke comes increased concerns about air quality. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment has issued an air quality advisory for wildfire smoke that will remain in effect until future notice. If visibility is less than five miles, smoke conditions are generally considered to be unhealthy.
“The biggest thing with the smoke is really avoidance. Stay indoors as much as possible, keep your windows closed,” said Dr. Barry Hammaker of Vail Health during Monday’s air quality press conference. “Anyone having respiratory issues, of any kind, should certainly seek medical care.”
That advice covers both smoke quality issues and COVID-19 concerns. Morgan Hill, environmental health manager for Eagle County, noted those two conditions are in conflict. For months now, residents have heard that outside is the safest place to be during these days of COVID-19. But with smoke tainting the air, its better to remain inside, particularly for people with breathing issues, health officials advised.
According to the Aug. 17 incident update, more favorable weather on Sunday allowed firefighters to continue with water and retardant drops. Construction of fire lines and additional structure protection were crew priorities.
“There was active fire in the upper No Name Creek drainage and resources focused on preventing spot fires from crossing the creek,” the update noted. “The fire advanced in the Coffee Pot Road area, into flatter terrain, which helped slow down the fire. Firefighters were able to directly engage the fire using air support providing retardant drops. Structure protection was ongoing in Bair Ranch and No Name, with no loss of structures.”
On Monday, firefighters stationed throughout the blaze perimeter planned to bolster their efforts by using heavy equipment to construct fire line. Structure protection continued in No Name and Bair Ranch, with additional efforts in High Aspen, Spring Valley and areas to the south. Crews on the east side of the fire worked to complete indirect fire line construction from I-70 to the Coffee Pot Road.
No word yet on I-70 reopening
As recent photographs of I-70 through Glenwood Canyon document, currently I-70 features impassible conditions with large boulders strewn around the roadway.
I-70 continues to be closed between Glenwood Springs and Gypsum, with no estimated time for reopening. Forest Service Road 400, Eagle-Thomasville Road, is closed due to excessive traffic and accidents resulting from drivers attempting to use this primarily dirt road as an alternate to the I-70 closure. Cottonwood Pass Road in Garfield and Eagle counties, Coffee Pot Road, Transfer Trail and Clinetop Mesa roads and areas of the Flattops accessed by those roads are also closed, as well as many surrounding White River National Forest and BLM roads. For more information regarding road closure, visit http://www.cotrip.org.
The next Grizzly Creek Fire community will be held virtually Tuesday, Aug. 18 at 6 p.m. To tune into the meeting in English, go to the Grizzly Creek Fire Facebook page. To tune into the meeting in Spanish, go to the Mi Salud, Mi Charco Facebook page.