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Colorado fire burns 266 square miles; thousands evacuated with high winds

by Sam Tabachnik, Denver Post |

GRANBY, Colo. — Dry and windy conditions Friday are expected to fuel further growth of the East Troublesome fire, which blew up Wednesday and Thursday, forcing thousands of evacuations from Grand Lake to Estes Park and destroying an untold number of homes.

The fire in Grand County is burning 170,163 acres, or nearly 266 square miles, as of Friday morning with 5% containment, officials said at a morning news briefing. It remains the second-largest wildfire in Colorado’s recorded history.

Friday was expected to bring slightly cooler conditions with a bit higher humidity, but crews anticipate another challenging day — especially on the south and southeast portions of the fire near Granby and Hot Sulphur Springs and up through Grand Lake, said Noel Livingston, the fire’s incident commander.

Stronger winds later in the day will make aerial resources impossible, Livingston said, so crews will attempt to use air support during the morning when the weather is calmer.

Grand County Sheriff Brett Schroetlin said during a morning news conference that he could not confirm any deaths related to the fire, and said the list of people who have been unaccounted for remains small.

A major problem for emergency personnel, he said, has been people who refused to obey mandatory evacuation orders and stayed in their homes.

“It’s a large area to control,” Schroetlin said. “And it’s taking a lot of my local resources to control that.”

The fire grew 45,000 acres Thursday, driven by gusty winds and low relative humidity. Most of that growth came on the northern edge of the fire, near the Jackson County line, as well as the east side, above Estes Park, Livingston said.

“A very dramatic event has occurred over the last couple days,” he said.

Fortunately, a cold front Thursday night brought higher humidity that helped tamp down the fire near Estes Park, Livingston said.

That extreme growth forced evacuations in Estes Park, Grand Lake other surrounding areas.

Granby had the appearance of a ghost town Friday afternoon, with just about every business on the town’s main drag shut down due to the fire.

The air was heavy with haze and blue smoke, but mercifully there was a little in the way of wind — a sharp contrast to the howling winds of Thursday that helped propel the fire further and wider.