Already battling the largest fire in state history, Colorado is now dealing with another blaze that grew by more than 100,000 acres in a day.
The flames traveled east, fueled by beetle-eaten pine trees and dry winds. Hundreds evacuated. The fire jumped the Continental Divide. Conditions forced the closing of Rocky Mountain National Park.
The fire, called East Troublesome after a nearby creek, has spread to more than 125,000 acres. Smoke plumes stretched 40,000 feet in the air. The nearby town of Grand Lake was forced to evacuate.
East Troublesome is now the fourth-largest wildfire in Colorado records. It started on Oct. 14, but overnight Wednesday it quadrupled in size.
“The growth that you see on this fire is unheard of,” Grand County Sheriff Brett Schroetlin said during a Thursday press conference. “We plan for the worst. This is the worst of the worst of the worst. And no matter how we look at it, we can’t control Mother Nature.”
The cause is under investigation.
Three of the five largest fires in Colorado history are from 2020. The state has battled its largest fire in history for more than two months just west of Fort Collins. The fire, named Cameron Peak, continues to burn and has spread to about 207,000 acres. It is 55% contained.
“By the end of September, nearly 100% of the state was experiencing some level of drought, up from 51% since the beginning of the calendar year,” according to a monthly report from the Colorado Climate Center.
There have been no reported injuries or deaths, but some residents disregarded mandatory evacuation orders Wednesday, Schroetlin said. Numerous structures were destroyed Wednesday, he said.
He had “no idea” of the extent of damages, Schroetlin said. As of Thursday afternoon, the East Troublesome Fire was 5% contained.
High wind and low humidity conditions will make it easy for the fire to spread further, said Noel Livingston, incident commander for Pacific Northwest Team Three.
“We anticipate another day of large fire growth,” he said.
It’s possible the East Troublesome Fire could connect with the Cameron Peak Fire, Livingston said. Cameron Peak has also burned into Rocky Mountain National Park.
A media conference scheduled for Thursday afternoon was canceled after the location where it was to take place was put under a pre-evacuation order.
Ernie Bjorkman, a Grand Lake town councilman, evacuated his home in a hurry Wednesday evening, Colorado Public Radio reported. He said the town will have a lot of work to do when residents return.
“It was basically out of a movie. It was a firestorm in downtown Grand Lake. Smoke and embers flying around. It was just a chaotic scene,” Bjorkman told CPR. “We locked the door and said, ‘Hopefully, house, we’ll see you when we get back.’ “