Snow brings much-needed relief to East Troublesome Fire; fire now 30 percent contained
GRAND COUNTY, Colo. (KKTV) - Mother Nature came through Sunday at the East Troublesome Fire.
The cold and snow arrived in the nick of time, stalling the fire as it was making a run for the town of Estes Park.
At the time the snow started falling Sunday, the fire was only a mile from Estes Park.
About 12-16 inches of snow fell in the higher areas of the fire, with sections of the fire at a lower elevation such as Granby and Grand Lake getting 6-12 inches. The snow dump was much needed, smothering the blaze and halting growth on the fire.
“The snow was great news for firefighters, as well as the community. We got a good snowstorm,” said Noel Livingston, the incident commander with Pacific Northwest Team 3. “What that’s done for our suppression operations [Sunday and Monday] is really put things on hold. ... I was out this afternoon, got a good chance to look at some of the fire perimeter up by Highway 34 and things have really cooled off as a result of that snow. ... It has certainly checked fire growth. We saw no active fire anywhere that I was today, nor do I expect there was any active fire."
However, meteorologists caution that the snow does not mean the fire will be extinguished or even that crews are out of the woods just yet.
“The snow was a much-welcomed relief ... [but] basically with the cooler temperatures that we had -- the cold temperatures during the snowfall were anywhere from 10 to 8 degrees. What that does is that it decreases the moisture content of the snow, so you get a different ratio,” said incident meteorologist Terry Lebo. “What that means is if you have temperatures in the upper 20s, around 30, and you get 10 inches of snow, you’re likely to get an inch of liquid. If that happens when temperatures are 10 degrees and you get 10 inches of snow, you’re likely to get closer to half an inch of liquid.
“... What that means is we did get a little less liquid than we were hoping for, but again, this is much welcome and the cooler temperatures are obviously detrimental to the fire.”
The snow provided firefighters with a much-needed reprieve and a chance to play offense on the blaze, officials said.
“It looks like we’re going to hold onto that snow for the next several days. I expect the south aspects and the west slopes are going to be the ones that melt off. And I would think that’s gonna happening beginning or middle of next week based on the forecast that we have coming up. So that is going to be some time where the fire -- where things that are smoldering are sitting under the snow," Lebo said.
Lebo said as temperatures warm back up later in the week, it would present a mixed bag of effects on the fire: increased humidity as the snow evaporates, but also less moisture being absorbed.
“The humidity will be low, but what’s interesting is the humidity will be low in the morning and then it’ll actually come up during the day, and I think that’s a combination of evaporation of moisture laying on the ground and sublimation. Sublimation means instead of melting and being absorbed in the ground, it actually goes right from the solid phase into the gas phase.
“... So, those are some negative factors, but, again, we do have a lot of positive factors. We got snow on the ground, there is going to be some melting and some absorption, especially the snaller, finer fuels, and they’re the ones that -- I mean we do have the heavy fuels that are going to be holding the heat, but the small ones are going to be the ones that help carry the fire, and those are going to be just not receptive for quite a while, until we start to warm up and dry out.”
Lebo’s full talk on how the snow and cold weather will affect the fire going forward can be seen in the below video starting just after the 5-minute mark.
In all, the snow and cold is the first good news on a wildfire that had forced multiple communities to flee as it tore across Grand County, jumped over the Continental Divide, and burned well into Rocky Mountain National Park, at one point consuming roughly 6,000 acres an hour. It is the second-largest fire in Colorado history and is still growing, with less than 17,000 acres separating it in size from the Cameron Peak Fire, the state’s largest-ever wildfire. Officials have said it’s within the realm of possibility that the two fires could merge.
As of Wednesday, the fire has burned 193,774 acres. That’s up from the 192,560 acres reported Sunday morning. Officials say the 1,214 acres added to the fire is due to more accurate mapping collected by aerial resources Tuesday. The fire has not grown since Sunday.
Firefighters continue to add containment, bringing it up to 30 percent Wednesday.
The events of the fire to date:
The East Troublesome Fire erupted in size on the afternoon of Oct. 21, gaining thousands of acres an hour and forcing hundreds to evacuate.
“We saw about 20 miles of fire growth over the course of the afternoon and into the night,” Livingston said in a briefing Oct. 22. “... The fire essentially responded to available fuels. Where the fire spread occurred is primarily in those timbered aspects in that difficult terrain north of Granby and north of Grand Lake. It spread essentially to and into Rocky Mountain [National] Park. So an amazing, really, how the fire spread."
The wildfire ignited Oct. 14, and until the 21st had remained below 20,000 acres. Extreme fire conditions in the area Wednesday and ample fuel including beetle-killed trees drove the massive growth. The fire is currently impacting the Highway 34 corridor and the Grand Lake area. Hundreds of people in that area were evacuated Wednesday night.
A map of all evacuation/pre-evacuation areas can be viewed here.
Structures have burned, but it is not yet safe for officials to assess what has been lost. A firefighting source told 11 News sister station CBS Denver the loss of structures is estimated in the several hundred.
An elderly couple perished in the fire, having decided to stay with their family home. The Grand County sheriff confirmed the tragic news Friday night in a video on the sheriff’s office page and read a statement from the family.
“Our parents, Lyle and Marilyn Hileman, loved Grand Lake. Married at a young age, they honeymooned in the area in 1952. Years later, they would buy the property adjacent to Rocky Mountain National Park. The property became a lifelong mission to create, quote, ‘Heaven on Earth,’ to which family, friends and strangers who quickly became friends would be drawn. On Wednesday evening, several friends contacted them with offers of support in the evacuation. Their friend Richard Klein, along with safety officials, drove through roadblocks in an effort to rescue the Hilemans. All offers to leave were refused. At 86 and 84 years of age, their only desire was to be together in the home they loved. In the spring of 2020, they sold the property to their son Glenn in the hopes of staying there as long as physically possible. On the evening of Oct. 21, they called Glenn and said, ‘It happened.’ When pressed, they then shared that the fire had began in the fields, barns, and adjacent homes. They were calm, resolute, and adamant: they would not leave. They asked Glenn to call his siblings and let him know they were in their basement in an area they felt safe. Prior to hanging up the phone, Marilyn confirmed they smelled smoke. After contacting all of his siblings, Glenn attempted to contact his parents again, but there was no answer. It would be late Thursday before confirmation would come that the house was destroyed, but our family feels comfort in the knowledge our parents left this world together and on their own terms. They leave a legacy of hard work and determination to overcome, something all of Grand County will need."
Despite the rapid growth and how urgent the evacuations became as the blaze encroached on homes and businesses, no other loss of life has been reported.
Rocky Mountain National Park closed the park to all visitors Thursday due to the fire.
The governor addressed the wildfire situation statewide in a news conference Thursday afternoon.
The top 10 fires in Colorado history are as followed:
Cameron Peak Fire (currently burning, 208,663 acres as of 10/25)
East Troublesome Fire (currently burning, 192,560 acres as of 10/25)
Pine Gulch (2020, 139,007 acres)
Hayman (2002, 137,760 acres)
Spring Creek (2018, 108,045 acres)
High Park (2012, 87,250 acres)
Missionary Ridge (2002, 71,739 acres)
416 Fire (2018, 52,778 acres)
Bridger (2008, 46,612 acres)
Last Chance (2012, 44,000 acres)
You can watch videos of the fire from 11 News Breaking Weather Chaser Eric Kelly below:
Copyright 2020 KKTV. All rights reserved.