A fire that started Wednesday afternoon in South Canyon closed westbound Interstate 70 at west Glenwood Springs for over two hours, and pre-evacuation notices were issued for the Ami’s Acres campground and the Mitchell Creek area.
Those notices were lifted Wednesday evening as fire crews, aided by a Type One helicopter pulled from the Cache Creek Fire southwest of Rifle, limited its spread.
The fire just off the interstate was estimated at 10 to 20 acres, said Garfield County Sheriff Lou Vallario. He credited the helicopter with preventing the fire from cresting a ridgeline. The aircraft lifted water from the Colorado River for drops.
He said authorities had not yet gotten close to the point of origin but that a discarded cigarette or a spark from a vehicle’s safety chain might have caused it. It started around 3 p.m.
“The efforts of the local firefighters have allowed reasonable control of the existing fire area and have stopped the previous spread,” says a press release from the Garfield County Sheriff’s Office. “Operations will continue into the night to minimize the possibility of any flare-ups.”
The fire pushed toward Storm King Mountain, according to the Glenwood Springs Police Department, rattling nerves in a region that continues to see fire activity. Storm King Mountain was the site of the tragic South Canyon Fire in 1994 that killed 14 wildland firefighters.
The Cache Creek Fire stood at 1,535 acres and was 23 percent contained Wednesday, while the Lake Christine Fire remained at 12,588 acres with 90 percent containment.
On Friday, Glenwood Springs Fire Chief Gary Tillotson said he believed the city would remain under Stage 2 fire restrictions for most, if not all, of August.
“Recent lightning storms have likely caused several fires currently burning in Garfield and Rio Blanco counties that have collectively grown to over 5,000 acres over the last several days heading into August,” he wrote in a Facebook post. “Fire activity on all of the recent fires has been reported as ‘active to extreme’ due to low live fuel moisture in drought-stressed timber and brush, causing small fire starts to grow rapidly …”
Tillotson urged residents to continue to exercise extreme caution in handling potential ignition sources.
On Wednesday, eastbound I-70 was temporarily closed around 4 p.m. for the air-support operation. It reopened about 40 minutes later. One lane of westbound I-70 was expected to reopen around 5:20 p.m., helping to ease a mile-long traffic jam.
Drivers were advised to stay off Highway 6 and 24 in case a full evacuation was necessary.
The fire, which burned on the north side of I-70 near mile marker 112, also closed the west Glenwood exit.
Commercial vehicles were stopped at Dotsero until about 5:15 p.m., according to the Colorado Department of Transportation.