DENVER — Snow and cold weather on Sunday put a damper on a wildfire that has forced thousands of people to evacuate in northern Colorado and burned part of Rocky Mountain National Park, but fire officials warned it would not be enough to put out the blaze.
A day after strong winds helped push the fire in the park, forcing the evacuation of Estes Park, the gateway town at its eastern edge, temperatures dropped and no fire growth was expected, Noel Livingston, incident commander of the East Troublesome Fire, said.
On Saturday, the winds that preceded the cold front pushed a portion of that fire that started out ahead of the main fire in Rocky Mountain National Park but firefighters were able to piece together three miles of fire lines to keep it from spreading farther to the east toward Estes Park, fire managers said. An update from the team fighting the nearby Cameron Peak Fire, which is in charge of fighting the breakaway fire in the park, said the fire has not crossed Bear Creek Road in the park.
The East Troublesome Fire has destroyed around 301 square miles (780 square kilometers) — an area nearly the size of New York City. The second-largest wildfire in Colorado’s recorded history was 10% contained.
Gov. Jared Polis said Friday that the wildfire was likely caused by human activity.
With the fire laying low, firefighters were focused Sunday on shoring up protection for structures along the fire’s southern edge, including the town of Granby, were protected from possible future advances, said fire spokesperson Jerolyn Byrne.
She said the snow was not what fire managers call a “season ending event.” While the snow cools down lighter fuels like grasses and shrubs, heavier logs and downed trees can carry their heat through the snow and do not absorb as much moisture, which will lead to fire to come back to life once the weather dries out and warms up, she said. That is expected to happen Tuesday.
“Season slowing maybe but not season ending,” she said of the shift in weather.
Wildfires usually do not burn as late into the year in Colorado’s mountains. Because of the unusual collision of fire season and cold weather, the Grand County Sheriff’s Office has organized a team of volunteer plumbers and contractors to check on evacuated homes and try to prevent water damage from broken pipes due to the cold weather.
Sheriff Brett Schroetlin has previously said there was “lots of structural loss” because of the fire. On Sunday he declined to provide an estimate of the number of homes lost but said he was working to notify residents about the fate of their homes. He said the town of Grand Lake, which was evacuated last week after the fire exploded in size, was not damaged. He also said no one is unaccounted for in the area burned by the fire.
Lyle and Marylin Hileman, aged 86 and 84, were found dead Friday after refusing to leave their home near Grand Lake. Their last known words were in a call to their son, saying calmly and adamantly that they would stay in their basement.
About the photo: A helicopter makes a water drop on the East Troublesome Fire, Saturday, Oct. 24, 2020 in Granby, Colo. The East Troublesome Fire has consumed over 200,000 acres with 4% containment ahead of an impending winter storm. (Andy Cross/The Denver Post via AP)
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