Extremely dry conditions are helping fuel two large fires across western Colorado, forcing the state Department of Transportation to close a section of Interstate 70.
On Tuesday, all lanes in both directions were shut down between Glenwood Springs and Gypsum (mile markers 116 to 140), and the road remains closed until further notice.
The Grizzly Creek fire near Glenwood Junction, which started Monday, covered about 6,200 acres as of noon Thursday. This is the fire that has forced the closure of I-70.
Besides road closures, the fires have led to evacuation orders from the Garfield County Sheriff’s office.
Meanwhile, the Pine Gulch Fire, which started back on July 31, is now spread across more than 68,000 acres 18 miles north of Grand Junction. It is the sixth-largest wildfire on record for Colorado, and was only 7% contained as of noon Thursday.
This region of Colorado has been in a drought for almost a year, and the National Weather Service (NWS) is not expecting conditions to improve much anytime soon. The NWS has posted red flag warnings due to breezy and extremely dry weather. Relative humidity will be less than 15%, and with southwesterly wind gusts of 25 to 35 mph, these fires could spread faster and new fires could start. There’s no rain in the forecast for these areas over the next week.
The Storm Prediction Center’s (SPC) fire weather outlook for Thursday shows an “elevated” risk of wildfire danger in northwest Colorado.
The near surface smoke forecast from the latest High Resolution Rapid Refresh (HRRR) model shows ongoing issues across Colorado Thursday, with much of the smoke from the fires out west focused along the I-70 corridor.