An extremely very tough day: Extensive destruction feared after East Troublesome fire blows up

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Officials are bracing the public for the possibility that there was widespread destruction when the East Troublesome fire swept across Grand County on Wednesday night toward Grand Lake and through an area packed with homes, lodges and other businesses.

“I don’t know what we’ll see in the morning, to be honest,” a distressed-looking Grand County Sheriff Brett Schroetlin said in a video statement posted just after 1 a.m. on Thursday. “Daylight’s going to tell us a lot.”

Schroetlin said the fire, which has been burning since Oct. 14, grew at a rate of about 6,000 acres an hour and acted more erratically than even worst-case scenarios suggested it could.

“Today has been an extremely, extremely challenging day for our community,” he said in his video statement. “We knew this fire was here. We knew the impacts of it. We looked at every possible potential for this fire. We never, ever expected 6,000 acres per hour to come upon our community.”

The East Troublesome fire races toward Grand Lake on Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2020. (Grand County Sheriff’s Office)

The extreme fire behavior left authorities scrambling to move people out of the fire’s path on Wednesday night. But with limited routes out of the area, first responders had to get creative.  

Some evacuees fleeing the fast-moving wall of flames were directed to make a smoky, nighttime drive eastbound over Trail Ridge Road through Rocky Mountain National Park, a route that can be difficult to navigate in daylight. It appeared that sheriff’s deputies were using all lanes of traffic on U.S. 34 to evacuate people to the west. 

EARLIER: East Troublesome fire explodes toward Grand Lake, prompting urgent evacuations

“EVACUATE IMMEDIATELY!!!!” the Grand County Office of Emergency Management said in one of several tweets urging people to flee the Grand Lake area. 

Schroetlin said first responders “made some incredible rescues, some incredible evacuations.”

On Thursday morning, a massive area remained under mandatory evacuation orders. The fire continued to burn into the early morning hours despite low temperatures. Flames were visible from Granby, which is just a few miles southwest of Grand Lake.

The East Troublesome fire began on Oct. 14 near Kremmling and had burned about 20,000 acres before its dramatic tear east on Wednesday. Its cause remains under investigation.

Even before the fire made its run toward Grand Lake, the blaze was highly active on Wednesday, burning across Colorado 125 and an area of pricey multi-million dollar homes and ranches.

“The fire is growing faster than we can catch it right now,”  Incident Commander Jake Winfield warned in a video briefing held Wednesday evening, just before the fire’s harrowing run.

Fire danger is expected to remain high on Thursday. “Warm, windy, and dry conditions will persist over Grand, Summit, and Park counties today,” the National Weather Service in Boulder said in a forecast bulletin. “This will keep the fire danger elevated.”

The East Troublesome fire is threatening to become the most destructive fire in a difficult summer and fall of wildfires in Colorado

MORE: Five charts that show where 2020 ranks in Colorado wildfire history

This past weekend thousands of people were forced to flee their homes in Boulder County after the fast-moving Cal-Wood fire broke out near Jamestown, eventually destroying at least 20 homes along U.S. 36 south of Lyons.

The Cameron Peak fire west of Fort Collins, which last week became the largest fire in Colorado’s recorded history and has been burning for more than two months, continues to rage. It has torched dozens of structures and more than 200,000 acres. 

The Williams Fork fire is also still burning in Grand County west of Winter Park after starting on Aug 14. It has burned nearly 15,000 acres and is 26% contained.

A firefighting plane drops retardants on the Cal-Wood fire near Boulder on Saturday, Oct. 17, 2020. (Joseph Gruber, Special to The Colorado Sun)

Firefighting resources are spread thin, which prompted the U.S. Forest Service on Wednesday to close the Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forests in Clear Creek, Jefferson, Gilpin, Boulder, and Larimer counties for fear of another fire starting.The Bureau of Land Management, meanwhile, shut down its land in Boulder and Larimer counties.

A dry and hot summer driven by a changing climate has been blamed for the conditions that led to Colorado’s months of destructive wildfire. People across the state have been dealing with smoke and flames for months.

A reprieve in the form of a significant snowstorm is expected to move into Colorado over the weekend. However firefighters are still bracing for several more weeks battling flames in the state.

This is a developing story that will be udpated.

Rising Sun

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