Colorado wildfires: Latest updates on the 2021 fire season

Forecasts, and evacuation and closure information for major wildfires in Colorado

By: and - June 17, 2021 5:27 pm

Aftermath of the East Troublesome Fire on the east side of U.S. 34 south of Grand Lake in October 2020. (Thomas Cooper/Special to Colorado Newsline)

Colorado experienced an active start to the 2021 wildfire season, with multiple large fires burning tens of thousands of acres across the state in late spring and early summer.

The early wildfire activity came one year after more than 650,000 acres burned in Colorado’s worst fire season on record and amid concerns from state and federal officials that conditions in the months ahead could be just as dangerous or worse, especially in many parts of the drought-stricken Western Slope.

Firefighting operations on the Oil Springs Fire are conducted near the Encana Dragon Trail gas processing plant on June 23, 2021. (Rio Blanco County Sheriff’s Office)

Five large Colorado wildfires have burned a total of more than 30,000 acres in 2021, and four were considered active as of July 13:

  • The Oil Springs Fire south of Rangely in Rio Blanco County has burned an estimated 12,613 acres and destroyed at least one structure. Officials say it was caused by lightning on June 18, and it is 99% contained.
  • The Morgan Creek Fire, located north of Steamboat Springs in Routt County, has burned an estimated 6,093 acres. It was first reported on July 9. Its cause is under investigation, and it is 8% contained.
  • The Muddy Slide Fire west of Kremmling in Routt County has burned an estimated 4,093 acres. Officials say it was caused by lightning on June 20, and it is 70% contained.
  • The Sylvan Fire south of Gypsum in Eagle County has burned an estimated 3,792 acres. Officials say it was caused by lightning on June 20, and it is 68% contained.

The arrival of cooler temperatures and more humid conditions in late June moderated fire activity and aided firefighters’ efforts to control the blazes. But with extreme drought conditions persisting west of the Continental Divide, the latest forecasts from the federal government’s National Interagency Fire Center predict “above normal” potential for large wildfires across much of the Western Slope in July, August and September.

Fueled by climate change, much of Colorado has grown hotter and drier in recent decades, increasing wildfire risk. The three largest wildfires in Colorado history all occurred in 2020, and the state’s 20 biggest fires on record have all occurred in the past 20 years.

Click on a category below to learn more about Newsline’s reporting on Colorado wildfire issues.

 

Last updated 11:29 a.m., July 27, 2021.

2 weeks ago

Emergency closures ordered as Morgan Creek Fire grows to 3,400 acres

By: - Monday July 12, 2021 11:38 am
The Morgan Creek Fire in Routt County was estimated to have burned more than 3,400 acres as of July 11. (Inciweb.nwcg.gov)

Officials with the U.S. Forest Service on Sunday issued an emergency closure order for a large section of the Routt National Forest north of Steamboat Springs due to the growth of the Morgan Creek Fire, which was estimated at 3,414 acres.

The closure affects portions of the Mount Zirkel Wilderness along the Continental Divide Trail, as well as campgrounds and other Forest Service lands along Routt County Road 129 near Steamboat Lake State Park. Routt County officials have also issued voluntary preevacuation notices for several zones in the fire’s vicinity.

The Morgan Creek Fire was first reported midday Friday, July 9, near Seedhouse Road west of Clark. A large smoke plume from the blaze and other out-of-state fires is blanketing much of Colorado in a thick layer of haze, prompting a special health advisory issued Monday morning by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

“If smoke is thick or becomes thick in your neighborhood you may want to remain indoors,” the advisory said. “This is especially true for those with heart disease, respiratory illnesses, the very young, and the elderly. Consider limiting outdoor activity when moderate to heavy smoke is present. Consider relocating temporarily if smoke is present indoors and is making you ill.”

Last updated: 2:39 pm

4 weeks ago

‘Great progress’ on Oil Springs Fire as containment rises to 76%

By: - Thursday July 1, 2021 2:21 pm
The Oil Springs Fire has burned an estimated 12,613 acres south of Rangely in Rio Blanco County. (Rio Blanco County Sheriff’s Office)

After several days of more favorable weather conditions and additional containment efforts, officials are optimistic that the largest blaze to date in Colorado’s 2021 wildfire season is unlikely to grow significantly bigger.

The Oil Springs Fire, which has burned an estimated 12,613 acres south of Rangely, is now 76% contained, officials with the Rio Blanco County Sheriff’s Office said in an update Thursday.

“Firefighters made great progress on the northern portion of the fire yesterday, which resulted in more containment reported,” officials said. “Crews will remain spread out in various locations around the fire patrolling for any potential issues with containment lines. The focus of containment efforts will be on the east side of the fire.”

Several county roads in the area remained closed as of Thursday. While all evacuation orders have been lifted and Colo. 139 has reopened to traffic, officials urged drivers to use caution. “Firefighter personnel and vehicles are actively using the highway to access the fire area,” the Sheriff’s Office said.

Cooler temperatures and higher humidity levels have helped moderate the fire’s activity over the last week. While warmer, drier conditions are forecast to return over the next several days, officials said Thursday that they are confident that “fire activity will be minimal with no growth expected.”

Last updated: 3:14 pm

4 weeks ago

West Fire in far northwest Colorado reaches 100% containment

By: - 1:56 pm
The West Fire burned an estimated 3,429 acres in northwest Moffat County. (Bureau of Land Management)

Officials with the Bureau of Land Management announced on Thursday that the West Fire, burning in a remote area along the Wyoming border in northwest Colorado, became the state’s first large wildfire to reach 100% containment in 2021.

The West Fire burned an estimated 3,429 acres of BLM and state-owned land northwest of the Cold Springs Mountain area. It was first reported on June 20, and officials say it was caused by lightning.

Along with other blazes burning across Colorado, the West Fire saw only minimal growth following the arrival of colder, wetter weather across much of the state last week.

Wildfires are considered fully contained when firefighting crews have completed control lines along 100% of the fire’s perimeter, “which can reasonably be expected to stop the fire’s spread,” according to the National Wildfire Coordinating Group.

“A wildland fire engine will remain on scene for the next 6 days working to clean up hot spots,” officials said in an update.

4 weeks ago

Biden, Western governors plan for ‘severe’ wildfire season in White House briefing

By: - 10:36 am

For years, American presidents have held annual meetings with Federal Emergency Management Agency officials to plan ahead for the Atlantic hurricane season. In an era when the catastrophic impacts of climate change are accelerating from coast to coast, President Joe Biden on Wednesday convened a first-of-its-kind meeting to make similar preparations for what is shaping up to be another devastating wildfire season in the West.

Among the attendees was Colorado Gov. Jared Polis.

Biden, Western governors plan for ‘severe’ wildfire season in White House briefing

Last updated: 10:38 am

1 month ago

Rain, cooler weather aids firefighters battling blazes across Colorado

By: - Friday June 25, 2021 11:36 am
Smoke from the Sylvan Fire is seen near Sylvan Lake State Park on June 24, 2021. (Rocky Mountain Area Incident Management Team)

Officials in charge of firefighting operations on all four large wildfires currently burning in Colorado reported that rain and cooler temperatures aided their efforts to bring the blazes under control on Thursday, and forecasters expect more favorable weather conditions to continue into the weekend — but not much longer than that.

The Oil Springs Fire, Muddy Slide Fire, Sylvan Fire and West Fire all received rainfall and saw minimal growth on Thursday, officials with local and federal agencies said in daily fire updates Friday morning. In some cases, however, the wet weather has created a new set of challenges for firefighting crews.

“Favorable weather is giving firefighters an opportunity to make progress on containing the Sylvan Fire, although muddy roads are impacting access,” officials said.

The Sylvan Fire was first reported on the afternoon of June 20 and is currently estimated at 3,752 acres in size. Mandatory evacuation orders remain in effect along several county roads surrounding Sylvan Lake State Park, prompting the closure of many campgrounds and other recreation sites in the area; preevacuation notices have been issued for the Fulford area and for residents along Frying Pan road to the south of the fire.

Though more rain could fall on the Sylvan Fire and other Colorado wildfires on Friday and potentially over the weekend, officials are warning that the favorable weather isn’t expected to last.

“The reprieve will be short lived,” fire officials said Friday, “as warming, drying conditions are expected to move back into the area next week.”

1 month ago

Routt National Forest closure expanded as Muddy Slide Fire exceeds 4,000 acres

By: - Thursday June 24, 2021 3:29 pm

The U.S. Forest Service issued an expanded emergency closure order for portions of the Routt National Forest west of Kremmling on Thursday, as the latest size estimates show the Muddy Slide Fire exceeding 4,000 acres.

Evacuation orders for residents along County Road 16 remain in effect, according to Routt County officials, with preevacuation notices extending south and west to the intersection of Colo. 131 and Colo. 134.

The Muddy Slide Fire was first reported on June 20, and its cause is under investigation. The fire is currently 0% contained, as crews continue to develop strategies for how best to bring its spread under control, officials said. A federal incident management team assumed control of firefighting operations on Thursday morning.

“We’re focusing on … picking the right opportunity to manage this fire, putting in control lines where we have a high likelihood of successfully holding the fire,” operations chief Beau Kidd of Rocky Mountain Incident Management Team Blue said in an update Thursday afternoon. “We’re still looking for those options, and our plan is probably going to morph over the next couple of days, as we locate those desirable terrain features, breaks in fuel, or constructed features that we can use.”

1 month ago

Oil Springs Fire grows to 12,600 acres, threatens natural gas infrastructure

By: - 2:52 pm
Firefighting operations on the Oil Springs Fire are conducted near the Encana Dragon Trail gas processing plant on June 23, 2021. (Rio Blanco County Sheriff’s Office)

The Oil Springs Fire burning south of Rangely in Rio Blanco County has grown to an estimated 12,648 acres, and firefighting operations are focused on protecting natural gas extraction facilities and other structures in the area, officials said Thursday.

Colo. 139 remains closed throughout the area, which has also been impacted by the 553-acre Wild Cow Fire roughly 10 miles to the south. But the Rio Blanco County Sheriff’s Office said that as of 8 a.m. Thursday, all evacuation orders had been lifted, and County Roads 23, 103 and 122 have been reopened.

The fire, which is located on Bureau of Land Management land and was ignited by lightning on June 18, has gradually spread north into an area with a large number of natural gas wells and processing infrastructure. Firefighters have dropped retardant and set up sprinkler systems in an effort to protect the Dragon Trail gas processing plant, operated by Denver-based Encana Oil and Gas, and other facilities.

“Today, firefighters will continue to supply water to the sprinklers set up around the Dragon Trail gas plant and other structures,” officials said.

However, to the south, where the fire continues to burn in a remote wilderness study area, firefighting efforts have been hindered by a lack of firefighting personnel and other resources, officials said. An incident management team from the National Interagency Coordination Center, a federal wildfire response group, assumed control of firefighting operations on Tuesday, and 155 total personnel were assigned to the fire as of Thursday morning.

“The portion of the fire that has burned in the Oil Spring Mountain Wilderness Study Area remains unstaffed due to a lack of available crews and equipment,” officials said. “Operational plans are being developed for these areas so firefighters can go to work as soon as they are assigned to the fire.”

1 month ago

Muddy Slide Fire becomes latest blaze to exceed 1,000 acres

By: - Wednesday June 23, 2021 11:19 am

The Muddy Slide Fire west of Kremmling grew rapidly to an estimated 1,025 acres on Tuesday, fire officials said, becoming Colorado’s fourth wildfire in 2021 to exceed 1,000 acres burned.

“The fire became very active yesterday afternoon with crowning, wind driven runs and long-range spotting, spreading south and southeast,” officials said in an update Wednesday. “It continued to burn actively throughout the night.”

The Routt County Sheriff’s Office said early Wednesday morning that mandatory evacuation orders are in place for residents along County Road 16 between mile markers 12 and 21. An evacuation shelter has been opened at the Soroco High School in Oak Creek.

The Muddy Slide Fire was first reported on June 20, and its cause is under investigation.

Three other wildfires burning across Colorado are estimated to have grown larger than 1,000 acres as of early Wednesday:

  • The Oil Springs Fire, located south of Rangely in Rio Blanco County, has burned an estimated 7,395 acres and destroyed at least one structure.
  • The Sylvan Fire, located south of Gypsum in Eagle County, has burned an estimated 3,583, forcing closures and evacuations at many recreation sites in the area, and threatening a major power line and other infrastructure.
  • The West Fire, located in far northwest Colorado along the Wyoming border, has burned an estimated 3,107 acres.

1 month ago

Study: Climate change driving lower humidity in Southwest, increasing fire risk

By: - 11:10 am

Fueled by climate change, higher summertime temperatures in the southwestern United States, including Colorado, are leading to lower humidity and increased wildfire risk, a new study found.

The research, conducted by scientists from UCLA and the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder and published last week in Nature Climate Change, studied a six-state region across the Southwest. It found that since 1950, hot summer days have become drier on average and that the trend has “rapidly increas(ed) post-2000.”

“High temperature, low humidity days help desiccate the vegetation,” one of the study’s authors, UCLA climate scientist Karen McKinnon, told the New York Times. “And the fire weather itself is worse.”

Scientists expect that global warming will increase humidity in many parts of the world, driven by greater evaporation from ocean surfaces. But in the Western U.S., where the moisture content of surface soil plays a key role in the hydrological cycle, McKinnon and her co-authors found that the opposite trend has taken hold.

Humidity, a measure of the amount of water vapor in the air, is a key factor in determining both short- and long-term wildfire risk levels, including through the color-coded National Fire Danger Rating System. It’s separate from, though interrelated with, other measures of dryness, like precipitation, soil moisture and stream flows, which are the primary determinants of drought classifications made by the U.S. Drought Monitor.

“Given the recent extreme fire seasons across the Southwest, combined with a growing population and water demand, our results highlight the need to quantify the direct impacts of decreasing humidity on the biosphere and water supplies,” the study’s authors concluded.

1 month ago

248-acre Wild Cow Fire burning on BLM land in Garfield County

By: - Tuesday June 22, 2021 4:33 pm
The Wild Cow Fire was estimated at 248 acres as of 3 p.m. on June 22, 2021. (Bureau of Land Management)

A new wildfire burning roughly 10 miles south of the Oil Springs Fire in northwest Colorado grew rapidly on Tuesday, prompting the deployment of firefighting aircraft and other suppression efforts.

The Wild Cow Fire, reported near Baxter Pass west of Colo. 139 in Garfield County, was estimated at 248 acres as of 3 p.m. Tuesday, according to Bureau of Land Management officials.

Officials first reported the fire, which is burning on BLM land, late Monday. Satellite imagery and fire-detection data showed significant fire growth throughout the day on Tuesday, with smoke from the Wild Cow Fire visible alongside plumes from other active wildfires throughout the state on weather radar.

As of Tuesday afternoon, no closures or other alerts had been issued by Garfield County emergency officials in response to the Wild Cow Fire, though Colo. 139 remains closed north of the Grand Valley due to the Oil Springs Fire.

1 month ago

Sylvan Fire grows to 2,630 acres; heavy smoke to impact Front Range

By: - 12:33 pm

A large plume of smoke from the fast-growing Sylvan Fire in Eagle County was visible across much of the surrounding region on Monday, and officials say that Tuesday afternoon could bring more of the same.

“Today is expected to be hot, dry and windy, so firefighters are anticipating another day of active fire behavior,” officials said in a Tuesday morning update. “The fire will produce a large amount of smoke again today as it burns through heavy timber.”

The Sylvan Fire was first reported on Sunday afternoon and has forced closures and evacuations at many recreation sites in the area, including Sylvan Lake State Park. Firefighting efforts have concentrated on protecting a major power line that runs through the area northwest of the fire, as well as Brush Creek and Gypsum Creek, which are water sources for nearby communities. No other structures are immediately threatened, fire officials said during a community briefing on Monday night.

“Our ultimate objective is to try and contain the fire on three sides, and herd the fire to the south to Red Table Mountain, where the sparse vegetation will hopefully keep it contained on the south side,” said Justin Conrad, a fire management officer with the U.S. Forest Service. “Firefighters are struggling with access and accessibility right now, so we’re doing everything we can to use natural features that are out there, the natural barriers.”

Along with the Oil Springs Fire in northwest Colorado and other wildfires burning throughout the West, smoke from the Sylvan Fire is likely to impact air quality in the high country and along the Front Range.

“Generally hazy skies and light to moderate concentrations of smoke can be expected statewide on Tuesday due to smoke transported from both in-state and out-of-state wildfires,” the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment said in a Tuesday advisory. “Throughout Colorado, unusually sensitive people should consider reducing prolonged or heavy exertion on Tuesday.”

1 month ago

Oil Springs Fire grows to 7,183 acres; 1 structure lost

By: - 12:25 pm

Officials in Rio Blanco County say that at least one structure has been lost as the Oil Springs Fire continues to burn in a remote area in northwest Colorado, growing to an estimated 7,183 acres as of late Monday.

“Firefighters are still witnessing active fire behavior due to dry conditions, receptive fuels and wind,” the Rio Blanco Sheriff’s Office wrote in an update on Facebook. “Multiple agencies have been called in to assist with structure protection.”

Road closures and evacuation orders issued for a large area surrounding Colo. 139 north of the Grand Valley will remain in effect through Tuesday, the Sheriff’s Office said. A Type 2 incident management team from the National Interagency Coordination Center, a federal wildfire response group, will assume control of firefighting operations on Tuesday.

1 month ago

Sylvan Fire burns near state park in Eagle County, grows to 1,400 acres

By: - Monday June 21, 2021 2:16 pm

The Sylvan Fire near Sylvan Lake State Park in Eagle County has grown rapidly to 1,424 acres after first being reported around 3:15 p.m. Sunday, and remained active overnight, fire officials said in an update Monday.

Eagle County officials have ordered the closure of roads and recreation areas throughout the area, including Sylvan Lake State Park, Crooked Creek Pass, Yeoman Park, the Lede Reservoir area, Hardscrabble, Hat Creek Road and Peter Estin Hut.

Officials in nearby Pitkin County also issued a pre-evacuation notice on Monday for the Meredith and Thomasville areas along Frying Pan Road near Ruedi Reservoir.

Fire officials said their priority overnight was to perform operations to protect a major power line that runs through an area on the fire’s western edge. Officials with the White River National Forest reported “extreme fire behavior” on Sunday but said that different forest types within the burn area may aid firefighting efforts.

“The hope is that we can contain this in mixed conifer (forest),” Ryan Hughes, the fire’s incident commander, said in a short video briefing on Monday. “Currently the aspen is not actively taking fire, which is buying us some more control options.”

Editor’s note: This post was updated at 4:16 p.m. on June 21 to reflect new estimates of the Sylvan Fire’s acreage.

Last updated: 4:17 pm

1 month ago

Evacuations ordered as Oil Springs Fire burns 5,000 acres north of Grand Junction

By: - 1:14 pm

Officials in Rio Blanco County have ordered evacuations across a large area surrounding Colo. 139 north of Grand Junction in response to the rapid growth of the Oil Springs Fire, which was ignited by a lightning strike on June 18 and as of late Sunday was estimated at 5,000 acres in size.

“Firefighters are still witnessing active fire behavior due to dry conditions, receptive fuels and wind,” officials with the Rio Blanco County Sheriff’s Office said in a fire update early Monday morning. “Multiple agencies have been called in to assist with structure protection through the night as winds are expected to continue with gusts up to 40 mph.”

Evacuations and road closures ordered in response to the Oil Springs Fire as of June 21, 2021. (Rio Blanco County Sheriff’s Office)

Due to the fire, Colo. 139 between Rangely and the Grand Valley is closed between mile markers 6 and 64 and is expected to remain closed until at least Tuesday, according to the Colorado Department of Transportation. Other road closures in the area impacted by the fire include County Roads 116, 27, 128, 23 and 122.

The Oil Springs Fire started in a remote wilderness study area overseen by the Bureau of Land Management, and accessing the “very rugged terrain” has posed difficulties for firefighting efforts, according to officials. As of early Monday morning, officials reported that the fire had crossed Colo. 139, located roughly 4 miles east of Oil Spring Mountain.

1 month ago

Trail Canyon Fire on Ute Mountain Ute lands estimated at 880 acres, 30% containment

By: - 12:48 pm

The Trail Canyon Fire, an 880-acre fire burning on tribal lands of the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe in southwest Colorado, has seen minimal growth thanks to containment lines and other firefighting efforts since its rapid expansion on Saturday, officials said.

The Trail Canyon Fire on Ute Mountain Ute tribal lands seen on June 19, 2021. (Brad Pietruszka/BLM)

The fire, which is burning in “rugged and remote terrain” on Lewis Mesa in Montezuma County, is the largest of several blazes in the area that were ignited by lightning strikes on June 18. Containment has reached 30% after crews built fire lines along the fire’s southeastern edge, aided by flatter terrain that has provided less fuel for the fire.

“The drought has meant there is very little grass to burn on the fires’ southeast side,” incident commander Brad Pietruszka said in a news release. “That helped us immensely because the fire slowed down after it burned out of the Piñon-Juniper forest where it started.”

Officials warn that high temperatures and strong winds could continue to fuel the Trail Canyon Fire’s growth in the coming days. About 125 firefighting personnel are assigned to the fire, with helicopters and air tankers assisting on-the-ground efforts.

1 month ago

Sheriff says coal-mine operations caused 640-acre fire near Craig

By: - Thursday June 17, 2021 5:23 pm
The Collom Fire has burned 640 acres near Craig, Colorado. (Moffat County Sheriff’s Office)

Moffat County officials say that a 640-acre fire reported near Craig on Tuesday afternoon was caused by surface operations at the Colowyo coal mine.

The fire caused the temporary closure of County Road 51 but has not threatened any structures, according to the Craig Press.

“The entire fire is located on property owned by Elk Ridge Mining and Reclamation, Colowyo Mine,” the Moffat County Sheriff’s Office wrote on Facebook Wednesday. “Preliminary investigation revealed the fire was ignited by activity associated with surface mining operations.”

The Colowyo Mine is one of Colorado’s largest remaining coal mines and supplies coal to the nearby Craig Generating Station.

The Sheriff’s Office said that 100 firefighters were assigned to the fire on Wednesday and that the fire was 5% contained.

1 month ago

Stage 1 fire restrictions in effect across western Colorado

By: - 5:19 pm

Officials with the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management announced this week that stage 1 fire restrictions would go into effect on federal public lands in counties across Colorado’s high country and the Western Slope.

The restrictions went into effect on Wednesday in the White River National Forest; the Medicine Bow-Routt National Forests; the San Juan National Forest; and the Arapaho National Forest; and on all BLM lands in Grand, Jackson, Eagle, Summit, Larimer, Moffat and Rio Blanco counties.

Under stage 1 fire restrictions, campfires are allowed only in permanent fire pits within developed recreation sites like picnic areas or campgrounds.

“High temperatures and dry conditions have resulted in high fire danger throughout our area,” BLM Fire Management Officer Jim Michaels said in a press release.

In addition to federal restrictions, at least 20 Colorado counties have enacted local fire restrictions of their own, according to the state Department of Public Safety.

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Chase Woodruff
Chase Woodruff

Reporter Chase Woodruff covers the environment, the economy and other stories for Colorado Newsline.

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