Parts of northern Colorado around the Cameron Peak and East Troublesome fires received up to a foot of snow between Oct. 25 and 26, pausing the growth of the two largest wildfires in state history.
But fire crews are not out of the woods yet, according to local officials.
Eric Hurst, public information officer for South Metro Fire Rescue, said if the snow does not remain consistent, it may only pause the fire's growth for a week or so.
“If the weather dries out again, smoke will rise out of that fire perimeter and we've seen that on the Cameron Peak Fire two or three times now,” Hurst said. “It will keep coming back until winter comes in and we have regular precipitation and snow staying on the ground.”
Evacuations have been ordered in Grand County, including Grand Lake and Granby, and Larimer County, including Estes Park. The evacuation status for Larimer County was reduced from “mandatory” to “voluntary” Oct. 26. For details on evacuation information, visit the state's emergency alert website, nocoalert.org.
South Metro Fire Rescue has sent six crews to assist with the Cameron Peak and East Troublesome fires in the northern Front Range. A new crew deployed Oct. 27 to relieve South Metro firefighters in northern California, who have been rotating two-week deployments since mid-summer.
South Metro Fire communities, including Parker, Highlands Ranch, Littleton, Centennial and Lone Tree, should not expect any change in the level of emergency service, Hurst said. When the more modern pieces of equipment are sent to assist in wildfires, Hurst said, the agency has reserve trucks to take their place. South Metro's district is not under a high fire danger warning.
“In the end, with those two engines and personnel, it's not any indication of a noticeable difference for the community, and it's usually not a noticeable difference for the folks in our fire department either,” Hurst said.
The Cameron Peak Fire, 15 miles southwest of Red Feather Lakes near Cameron Pass, has burned 209,000 acres and, as of Oct. 27, was 64% contained, according to the state's website. The East Troublesome Fire, in Grand County, has burned 193,000 acres and is 20% contained.
As of Oct. 27, eight wildfires burned in Colorado, including the Grizzly Creek Fire, which has been burning near Glenwood Springs since Aug. 10 and is 91% contained.
South Metro deploys two main types of engines to assist with wildland fire: a Type 3 brush engine and Type 6 brush truck. South Metro also deployed two wildland utility vehicles, which are beefed up pick-up trucks suited for off-roading.
South Metro deployed one reserve engine, one wildland utility vehicle and one brush truck to the East Troublesome Fire. South Metro also deployed one brush engine, one wildland utility vehicle and one brush truck to the Cameron Peak Fire. Another brush truck has been in northern California for several months.
A Type 3 truck can carry 500 gallons of water and are smaller than a standard fire engine and bigger than a Type 6 brush truck. Type 3 engines are staffed by about four people and are specifically designed for “wildland urban interface areas,” meaning they can manage structure fires but also assist in wildland fires. A Type 6 truck is smaller and more agile. A Type 6 truck can drive off-road easier but carries less water.
The snowy conditions, while beneficial to containing the fires, have provided a unique challenge for firefighters, who must cope with below freezing temperatures at high elevation. Pumps for fire hoses can freeze. Firefighters take shelter in high school gymnasiums, their trucks or sometimes in tents near the fire line.
Firefighters are equipped with winter gear and the ones who volunteered for the wildland team know what they're getting into, Hurst said.
“They are very lucky they are being taken care of extremely well,” Hurst said.
To help families in need who have been affected by wildfires, contact the American Red Cross at redcross.org or call the northern Colorado office at 970-226-5728.
“We're totally depending on mother nature to do its thing,” Hurst said. “If it dries out and warms up, I wouldn't be surprised to see more growth again.”
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