East Troublesome Fire grows six times larger, crosses Highways 125 and 34

The Colorado fire spread east to Grand Lake and into Rocky Mountain National Park, growing to 125,000 acres

Updated October 22, 2020   |   6:30 p.m. MDT

East Troublesome Fire map
East Troublesome Fire 2 p.m. MDT Oct. 22, 2020.

After reports of the East Troublesome Fire crossing the Continental Divide into the east side of Rocky Mountain National Park causing the evacuation of much of Estes Park, the community caught a break, however temporary it may be.

Paul Werth, Fire Weather Meteorologist, explained it in a comment below this article:

Good news for Estes Park! The first in a series of cold fronts has moved into the Estes Park area. Within the past few hours, the temperature at the Estes Park RAWS(NPS) has dropped to 30 degrees and the RH has jumped to 89%. The winds have also shifted from the SW gusting to 30 mph to an easterly direction of 10 mph or less. Weather stations a few miles to the west of Estes Park (elevation 8900 ft msl) also show cold temperatures and high RH with easterly winds. The high RH should moisten the 1 and 10-hr fuels to significantly diminish the threat of the fire moving into Estes Park.

The satellite overflight at 2 p.m. Thursday did not detect any large heat sources east of the Continental Divide. This could be due to low clouds  which blocked detection by the satellite’s sensors. Park employees were heard on the radio Thursday talking about smoke that was mixed with fog, and the GOES 16 satellite showed what appeared to be low clouds or fog east of the Divide, while smoke from the main fire to the west was blowing to the east over the clouds.

Alpine Visitor Center in Rocky Mountain National Park
View from the Alpine Visitor Center in Rocky Mountain National Park at 5:18 p.m. MDT Oct. 22, 2020.

While there is a reduction in the fire activity east of the Divide, the rest of the fire was still active at 2 p.m. Thursday. In the Grand Lake area the wind shifted from coming out of the southwest, to coming from the south and south-southeast from 1 p.m. until 9 a.m. This allowed the activity on the north side to increase. As of 2 p.m. the fire had pushed to the north for about three miles to Parkview Mountain west of Highway 125. (see the map above)

The more moderate conditions in the Estes Park area are expected to last until Friday evening. There is even a 56 percent chance of precipitation in the area Thursday night. It could be back to the races again after 11 p.m. Friday with strong 17 mph winds out of the west gusting to 28 on Saturday, with the humidity in the 20s. Rain changing to snow is expected beginning Saturday evening.

West of the Continental Divide the winds will be moderate until picking up Friday afternoon, then becoming stronger Saturday — 20 mph out of the west gusting above 30 with the humidity in the 20s.

Updated October 22, 2020   |   2:44 p.m MDT

map east side of the East Troublesome Fire
3-D map showing the east side of the East Troublesome Fire with the spread across the Continental Divide. Looking northwest.
East Troublesome Fire satellite photo
The East Troublesome Fire as seen by the GOES 16 satellite at 2:26 p.m. MDT Oct. 22, 2020. Detections of heat have been enhanced.

Updated October 22, 2020   |   1:06 p.m. MDT

There are unofficial reports from individuals monitoring radio traffic that the East Troublesome Fire running to the east has jumped across the Continental Divide in Rocky Mountain National Park, which is 10,000 to 12,000 feet above sea level. Two of the locations that reportedly have fire is Bear Lake seven miles southwest of the town of Estes Park, and Forest Canyon which is west of Moraine Park.

Map East Troublesome Fire
Map of the east side of the East Troublesome Fire indicating the direction of spread. The red line was the perimeter observed during a mapping flight at 12:30 a.m. MDT Oct. 22, 2020.

Mandatory evacuation has been ordered for parts of Estes Park with the following boundaries: north border of Fall River Road, south border of Highway 36, west border of Elm Road, and the east border of Wonderview. The Larimer County webpage with information about the Cameron Peak Fire now has evacuation updates, including a map, for the east side of the East Troublesome Fire.

Grandby is not under a mandatory evacuation order, as of 1 p.m. Thursday.

Rocky Mountain National Park is closed.

We will update this article as more information is available.

Updated October 22, 2020   |   8:03 a.m. MDT

Map of the East Troublesome Fire
Map of the East Troublesome Fire at 12:30 a.m. MDT Oct. 22, 2020.

The East Troublesome Fire in Colorado grew six times larger Wednesday night. In a 28-hour period, from 8:55 p.m. October 20 to 12:30 a.m. October 22, it spread 19 miles increasing from 19,000 acres to 125,602 acres. (see the map above, and also the one below)

A mapping flight showed that it spread east across Highway 125, continued for 12 miles to Highway 34, and was last mapped 6 miles further east at the 12,000-foot mountains in Rocky Mountain National Park. At 12:30 a.m. Thursday it was about 10 miles west-southwest of Estes Park. The fire may have difficulty crossing the Continental Divide to get much closer to the town.

The community of Grand Lake on Highway 34 was impacted as well as areas west of Shadow Mountain Lake.

On the map below, you can zoom in and out.

When the fire was mapped Wednesday night the south side of the fire had not crossed Highway 40, remaining about one mile to the north. Overnight firefighters conducted a burning operation north of the highway, which was closed in the area at about 12:30 a.m. Thursday.

Evacuation orders and pre-evacuation notices are in effect.  Current evacuation information can be found at gcemergency.com, and at the Facebook page of the Grand County Sheriff’s Department.

The weather forecast indicates the fire could continue rapid growth until snow begins Saturday evening. Strong winds out of the west-southwest and west are predicted gusting to 37 mph Thursday, 22 Friday, and 39 on Saturday along with relative humidities in the 20s.

Pending legislation related to wildland fire

We endorse the bill to establish a federal wildland firefighter occupational series and a significant boost in their pay

U.S. Capitol building

In a typical Congressional session only three to five percent of bills that are introduced are actually passed and become law. In this two-year session which is drawing to a close so far only one percent have reached that status. So we don’t get too excited when a bill is introduced that looks like it would be beneficial to wildland fire or land management.

Having said that, there are at least four pending pieces of legislation that have been introduced in the last few months that could be of interest to wildland firefighters.

Wildland Fire Mitigation & Management Commission Act of 2020
Senator Mitt Romney announced the bill October 15 and it has not yet been introduced. As described by the Senator in a press release, it would establish a commission of federal and non-federal stakeholders — including city and county level representation — to study and recommend fire mitigation, management, and rehabilitation policies for forests and grasslands.

The Commission would be jointly managed by the Secretaries of Interior, Agriculture, and Administrator of FEMA, and comprised of 25 members: 8 federal and 17 non-federal members.

It would develop two reports which would be presented to Congress:

  1. Recommendations to Mitigate and Manage Fires
  2. Firefighting Aircraft and Aircraft Parts Inventory Assessment

The fact that the Commission would not be dominated by or reporting to the U.S. Forest Service makes it an interesting concept.

National Prescribed Fire Act of 2020 –  S.4625
Introduced by Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon September 17, 2020, it has two co-sponsors and has not been referred to committee. I could not find a House version. It seeks to expand the use of prescribed fire on federal land. Up to $300 million would be appropriated each year beginning in FY 2022 based on requests from the Departments of Agriculture and Interior.

The funds could be used to carry out prescribed fire projects, hire additional personnel and procure equipment “including unmanned aerial systems equipped with an aerial ignition systems to implement a greater number of prescribed fires.” Also, to provide training, reseeding, and monitoring for fire effects.

It would authorize assistance to states and local governments:

“(A) to provide federally sponsored insurance administered by States, in conjunction with State- sponsored training and certification programs, for private persons implementing prescribed fires;
(B) to establish a training or certification program for teams comprised of citizens or local fire services to conduct prescribed fires on private land, consistent with any standards developed by the National Wildfire Coordinating Group or State prescribed fire standards;
(C) to enable additional fire managers and apparatus, whether provided by the local resources of an agency, private contractors, nongovernmental organizations, Indian Tribes, local fire services, or qualified individuals, to be present while implementing a prescribed fire”

The bill requires the Agriculture and Interior departments to carry out prescribed fires each year on 1,000,000 to 20,000,000 acres. It also requires, subject to the availability of appropriations, not later than September 30, 2022, the Secretaries shall each have carried out a minimum of 1 prescribed fire on each unit of the National Forest System, unit of the National Wildlife Refuge System, unit of the National Park System, and Bureau of Land Management district if the unit is at least 100 acres (with some exceptions).

It requires the hiring of additional personnel for conducting prescribed fires, authorizes noncompetitive conversions of seasonal firefighters to permanent, employment of formerly incarcerated individuals, establishment of training centers for prescribed fire, “managed-wildfire”, and a virtual prescribed fire training center.

The bill would establish by law that except in the case of gross negligence, a Federal employee planning or overseeing a prescribed fire that escaped– (1) shall not be subject to criminal prosecution; and (2) shall not be subject to civil proceedings, except in accordance with section 2672 of title 28, United States Code. It would also provide up to $1,000,000 to meet with state officials to discuss liability protection for state certified prescribed fire managers.

Emergency Wildfire and Public Safety Act of 2020S.4431 and H.R.7978
The Senate version was introduced September 16, 2020 by Senator Dianne Feinstein and has four co-sponsors. The House bill was introduced August 7, 2020 by Rep. Jimmy Panett and has nine co-sponsors. The Senate bill has only been introduced, while the House version has at least made it to committee.

It would require the USDA, in consultation with the Department of the Interior, to initiate three “forest landscape projects”, the definition of which is not more than 75,000 acres. The objectives would be to reduce the risk of wildfire, restore ecological health, and adapt the landscape to the increased risk of wildfire due to climate change.

The bill excludes certain forest management activities from environmental review requirements.

It authorizes the Secretary of Agriculture to declare that an “emergency situation” exists, which would then allow:

“(A) the salvage of dead or dying trees;
(B) the harvest of trees damaged by wind or ice;
(C) the commercial and noncommercial sanitation harvest of trees to control insects or disease, including trees already infested with insects or disease;
(D) the reforestation or replanting of fire- impacted areas through planting, control of competing vegetation, or other activities that enhance natural regeneration and restore forest species”

Wildland Firefighter Recognition ActS.1682 and H.R.8170
Introduced in the House September 4, 2020 by Rep. Doug LaMalfa, and in the Senate May 23, 2020 by Senator Steve Daines. The Senate bill has gone nowhere, and the House version is in committee.

This bill requires the Office of Personnel Management to develop a distinct wildland firefighter occupational series. The Department of the Interior and the Department of Agriculture must use the series in the advertising and hiring of a wildland firefighter.

The bill requires an employee in a wildland firefighter occupational series to receive a pay differential based on the unusual physical hardship or hazardous nature of the position.

An individual employed as a wildland firefighter on the date on which the occupational series takes effect may (1) remain in the occupational series in which the individual is working, or (2) be included in the wildland firefighter occupational series.

Wildfire Today strongly endorses S.1682 and H.R.8170 and the establishment of the wildland firefighter occupational series with a significant boost in their pay. These jobs are one of the most hazardous, and require a level of knowledge and skill that can take a decade or more to acquire and develop. Wildland firefighters are tactical athletes, special forces, some of whom work well over 100 hours a week with only a few days off each month, traveling around the country separated from their families missing birthdays, anniversaries, and soccer games. Recognizing them and paying what they deserve, could improve retention which could enhance the overall quality of the workforce.

If you have an opinion about these pieces of legislation, contact your elected officials. If you support the Wildland Firefighter Recognition Act, feel free to borrow some of the words in the previous paragraph when you contact your legislators.

East Troublesome Fire spreads east across Highway 125

Size estimated at 30,000 acres

Updated October 21, 2020   |   9:26 p.m. MDT

East Troublesome Fire map
East Troublesome Fire at 6:50 p.m. MDT October 21, 2020.

The East Troublesome Fire made a big push to the east Wednesday afternoon and crossed Highway 125 at Cabin Creek (County Road 21) reaching a point just south of Little Gravel Mountain. It also crossed  northwest of Willow Creek Reservoir. The incident management team estimated Wednesday evening it had grown to almost 30,400 acres, an increase of 11,000 acres from Tuesday night’s mapping flight.

To see all articles on Wildfire Today about the East Troublesome Fire, including the most recent, click here.

Additional evacuations have been ordered. At 4:15 p.m. the Sheriff issued an evacuation notice for Area E; east of Highway 125 from milepost 5 to Highway 40. Highway 40 is open. Highway 125 remains closed.

More information about evacuations.

When the fire spotted across Highway 125 there was nothing firefighters could do to contain it at that location. The smoke from the main fire made it impossible for aircraft to work in the area and the fire behavior was too extreme for firefighters to work safely on the ground.

Aircraft on the southeast portion of the fire had to be shut down in the afternoon due to very strong winds.

Wednesday afternoon a weather station west of the fire recorded sustained 26 mph winds out of the west-southwest gusting at 32 to 40 mph with relative humidity of 11 percent. The Wednesday night forecast for the fire east of highway 125 calls for west-southwest winds of 16 gusting to 25 continuing into Thursday. The wind will decrease substantially Thursday night then increase again on Friday.

Five to seven inches of snow is expected beginning Saturday evening.

East Troublesome Fire
East Troublesome Fire at 4:56 p.m. MDT Oct. 21, 2020. As seen from Kremmling.

Updated October 21, 2020   |   8:33 a.m. MDT

retardant drop on the East Troublesome Fire
A BAe-146 air tanker makes a retardant drop on the East Troublesome Fire. Photo by Cassie Goldgehn.

The East Troublesome Fire 11 miles northeast of Kremmling, Colorado was mapped Tuesday night as having grown to within about 2 miles of Highway 40 on the southeast side and approximately 1/2 mile from Highway 125 on the east side.

The mapping flight Tuesday night estimated the fire had burned about 19,000 acres.

Evacuation orders and pre-evacuation notices are in effect.  Current evacuation information can be found at gcemergency.com. Colorado Department of Transportation has closed Highway 125 north of Granby from milepost 5 to 27.

October 20, 2020 | 3:30 p.m. MDT

East Troublesome Fire
East Troublesome Fire Oct. 18, 2020. Inciweb.

Mostly sunny skies will dominate Tuesday on the East Troublesome fire 43 miles west of Boulder, Colorado. Low relative humidity indices and warm temperatures are producing near red flag conditions. Winds from the southwest will transition to the northwest in the afternoon at 15-20 mph with gusts to 30 mph.

Poor humidity recovery and strong winds continued to push the fire to the north and east to the Ethel Creek and East Troublesome Creek drainages Monday night. The fire is estimated at 15,546 acres with 293 personnel currently assigned.

On Tuesday aircraft will continue water and retardant drops on active areas in the north and southeast parts of the fire. Helicopters will engage in bucket work on the eastern side of the active fire front near Kinney Creek, Sawmill Creek, and the Highway 125 corridor protecting values at risk. A helibase is being established in Kremmling to support air operations.

Ground crews are tying lines together on the north side of the fire. Some resources have shifted to the southeast section of the fire to assist in containing spot fires and increasing structure protection efforts. A second structure protection group has been created specifically to install hose lays and sprinklers around structures along the Highway 125 and Highway 40 corridors. Crews are working to reinforce fire lines around Grouse Mountain using multiple strategies which could include tactical firing operations as conditions allow.

(The above is adapted from an update by the incident management team October 20, 2020.)

The fire is 11 air miles northeast of Kremmling. On Monday night it was active on the north and east sides, but was most active on the southeast side 4 miles north of Hot Sulphur Springs. It was about a mile west of Highway 125.

Fires are usually named after a nearby landmark. In this case it was East Troublesome Creek.

Updated map of the Calwood Fire northwest of Boulder, Colorado

Firefighters have slowed the spread

October 20, 2020   |   8:56 a.m. MDT

On Monday the Calwood Fire northwest of boulder grew a relatively small amount on the west and northwest sides. An overnight mapping flight updated the size to 9,365 acres.

On the map above the red line is the perimeter of the Calwood Fire at 9:15 p.m. MDT Oct. 19, 2020, mapped by a fixed wing aircraft. The red shaded areas represent intense heat at that time. The small black line was the perimeter about 24 hours before.

Firefighters slow the spread of Lefthand Fire west of Boulder, Colorado

One mile west of Ward, CO

October 20, 2020   |   8:40 a.m. MDT

Lefthand Fire
Lefthand Fire. Photo by @SteveStaeger October 18, 2020.

Firefighters have been successful in slowing the spread of the Lefthand Fire which has burned 470 acres 11 miles west of Boulder, Colorado. After it was reported at 12:41 p.m. October 18 it was attacked aggressively with what was described by the Operations Section Chief as “a million dollars worth of retardant”. In spite of the brisk winds, strong work by the aircraft and personnel on the ground kept it from becoming a second major fire in the Boulder area, along with the Calwood Fire northwest of the city.

On Monday the fire was largely above the inversion layer, so aircraft were used extensively to assist ground crews. Firefighters are constructing containment lines with the assistance of aircraft when possible.

Photos of the Calwood Fire as it approached Hwy 36

Calwood Fire, Oct. 17, 2020
Calwood Fire, Oct. 17, 2020. Photo by Ben Nelson, Envision Studio, Boulder, Colorado.

Ben Nelson, a professional photographer at Envision Studio in Boulder, Colorado, took these photos as the Calwood Fire was spreading toward Highway 36 northwest of Boulder.

Calwood Fire, Oct. 17, 2020
Calwood Fire, Oct. 17, 2020. Photo by Ben Nelson, Envision Studio, Boulder, Colorado.
Calwood Fire, Oct. 17, 2020
A lead plane assesses the Calwood Fire, Oct. 17, 2020 for possible air tanker targets. Photo by Ben Nelson, Envision Studio, Boulder, Colorado.
Calwood Fire, Oct. 17, 2020
Calwood Fire, Oct. 17, 2020. Photo by Ben Nelson, Envision Studio, Boulder, Colorado.

You can follow Ben on Instagram: @_bennelson and @envisionstudio
and on Twitter: @envisionBen

The Calwood Fire has burned 8,700 acres and destroyed over 20 homes.

To see all articles on Wildfire Today about the Calwood Fire including the most recent, click here.