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Cameron Peak Fire explodes to 40,000 acres

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The Cameron Peak Fire exploded to more than 40,000 acres Sunday, raining down ash as far east as Greeley and south into the Denver metro area.

Hot, dry conditions and high winds continued to fuel the fire’s growth into Sunday afternoon, which led emergency responders to renew previously lifted evacuation orders and close additional areas near the fire burning in the mountains west of Fort Collins.

The fire also officially burned into Rocky Mountain National Park on Sunday.

Jake Livingston, planning operations with the team fighting the fire, said the fire made three significant runs on Saturday that continued into Sunday. Crews were defending structures along Colorado Highway 14 and Pingree Park Road, and working to fortify their lines protecting the mountain communities of Crystal Lakes, Red Feather Lakes and Glacier View Meadows.

“We’re really being cautious about this, being proactive about getting residents out of the way of the fire,” Livingston said in a morning update.

Later Sunday, firefighters confirmed that no structures had been lost along the Highway 14 corridor.

FEMA announced Sunday night that it had authorized the use of federal funds to help with costs of fighting the fire. According to a FEMA release, the fire is threatening 4,000 primary homes and 1,000 secondary homes west of Fort Collins, as mandatory evacuations are impacting roughly 5,000 people.

The FEMA funds will help local and state agencies with costs to fight the blaze, funding 75% of the state’s firefighting costs, according to a news release.

This story will be updated throughout the day Sunday. Here’s what we know through Sunday afternoon about fire behavior, the weather outlook and closures and evacuations:

Fire activity

This perimiter map for the Cameron Peak Fire from Sunday, Sept. 6, 2020, shows the fire's growth spurred by the previous day's hot, dry conditions.

The fire grew from 24,464 acres early Saturday to 34,289 acres early Sunday. Infrared imaging of the fire perimeter shows large fingers of fire spread eastward Saturday, fanned by wind and fueled by areas of dry forest vegetation.

Sunday’s high winds grounded helicopters as “extreme” fire behavior was fueled by winds gusting up to 40 mph.

Winds from the northwest pushed the fire to the southeast on Sunday. On one hand, that meant that voluntary evacuations for the mountain communities to the northeast remained voluntary. However, that meant that firefighters were planning to make their stand Sunday afternoon to fight the fire along Pingree Park Road.

Operations Section Chief Russ Long made a football analogy to explain the situation on Sunday, calling that situation “like fourth and 2 at the goal line, and we’re on defense.”

As of 4:45 p.m., the fire had not encroached east to Pingree Park Road, though firefighters expected it to reach the road sometime Sunday night. While the fire was burning into RMNP, it was “hung up” in the higher elevations in the tundra, according to a Facebook post.

Larimer County Sheriff Justin Smith said during a 2 p.m. video update that residents in the Dunraven and Glen Haven areas northeast of Estes Park should be prepared for the fire to continue pushing southeast. No voluntary evacuation had been ordered for those areas as of 2 p.m. Sunday, but Smith told residents to be prepared for the possibility of expanded evacuation orders.

Smith said residents of the Stratton Park area that burned in the 2012 High Park Fire should also be prepared for the potential of expanded evacuation orders.

The official incident command webpage for the fire lists it burning 15 miles southwest of Red Feather Lakes.

The fire is listed as 5% contained, with that containment achieved by natural features on the fire’s western edge.

There are 824 personnel assigned to the fire. Long said that firefighters weren’t using flame retardant drops from aircraft in an effort to protect the Poudre River watershed.

The cause of the fire that ignited Aug. 13 remains under investigation.

Weather outlook

A red flag warning remains in effect until 8 p.m. Sunday across Northern Colorado, including the burn area. Daytime highs in the upper 80s are expected in the fire area, with northwest winds of 14-20 mph gusting as high as 31 mph.

Winds are expected to lighten overnight Sunday, and Labor Day calls for highs in the upper 70s and lower 80s in the burn area, with continued breezy wind.

All eyes are on Monday night, when rain, snow and sub-freezing temperatures are expected in the burn area and across Colorado. Rain is expected to turn to snow at 2 a.m. Tuesday, with new snow accumulation of an inch possible.

Tuesday’s forecast calls for potentially heavy snow — up to 6 to 12 inches — and a high near 30 in the area of fire activity. The chance of precipitation is 90%, according to the National Weather Service.

“I’m definitely praying that this fire will calm down a bit until the cold and wet conditions show up Monday evening,” Smith said in a Saturday Facebook post.

Long said that while the cold weather will help, it will take the continued work of firefighters and a “season-ending” weather event to fully put out the fir

Evacuations and closures

8:30 p.m. Sunday: A voluntary evacuation order has been issued for Stove Prairie Road (Larimer County Road 27) from Colorado Highway 14 south to County Road 44H, east to include County Road 41 and Stratton Park due to increased fire activity.

Colorado 14 is also under a voluntary evacuation order from Kelly Flats to Stove Prairie Landing due to anticipated fire activity on Labor Day.

Residents are encouraged to evacuate if they are concerned for their safety, feel they need extra time to exit, or have health conditions that may be aggravated by the fire.

Colorado Highway 14 is now closed west of Stove Prairie Landing, while County Road 74E is now closed at its intersection with County Road 37.

Text the word LCEVAC to 888777 from your cellphone for evacuation updates.

4 p.m. Sunday: A voluntary evacuation order has been issued for Larimer County Road 74E, east from Red Feather and including the Shambhala Center, Lady Moon and Glacier View filings up to and including Hewlett Gulch Road, located west of mile marker 10.

Residents are encouraged to evacuate if they are concerned for their safety, feel they need extra time to exit, or have health conditions that may be aggravated by the fire.

1:30 p.m. Sunday: Rocky Mountain National Park announced that it would close Trail Ridge Road at 3 p.m. Sunday due to concerns of poor visibility as smoke from the Cameron Peak Fire inundates the park. 

The road that spans the park between Grand Lake and Estes Park will be closed from the Colorado River Trailhead on the west to the Forest Canyon Overlook on the east, according to park officials. 

Park officials previously closed Old Fall River road and other areas on the park’s northern reaches due to wildfire activity.

Noon Sunday: Fire officials implemented a mandatory evacuation order for the previous voluntary order for Buckhorn Road (Larimer County Road 44H) from Pennock Pass to County Road 27.

All residents and business occupants are ordered to leave the area immediately due to “immediate and imminent danger.” Residents should not delay to gather belongings or to protect their home or business.

9 a.m. Sunday: The American Red Cross set up an emergency shelter for evacuees at Cache la Poudre Middle School, 3515 W. Larimer County Road 54G, in Laporte. Shelter assistance is available to those who call 970-481-1243.

The Larimer County Humane Society is available to help shelter small animals and can be contacted at 970-226-3647, ext. 7. For help sheltering large animals, call Troy Badberg at 970-443-3231.

11 p.m. Saturday: Old Fall River Road in Rocky Mountain National Park closed late Saturday night, according to a news release. It will remain closed until further notice. The trailhead at Chapin Pass is closed. Park officials initiated the closures “in an abundance of caution,” and changing fire conditions could lead to additional closures, according to an email from park spokesperson Kyle Patterson.

7:15 p.m. Saturday: The Larimer County Sheriff’s Office announced voluntary evacuations Saturday night for Crystal Lakes, Red Feather Lakes and the west side of the Manhattan Road from Larimer County Road 74E down to Colorado Highway 14. Voluntary evacuations mean residents should prepare to leave but don’t have to yet. However, those with animals to move and those responsible for people who need assistance and may need more time were encouraged to leave immediately.

6 p.m. Saturday: The Larimer County Sheriff’s Office announced mandatory evacuation for residents and businesses in the area along Pingree Park Road and also Highway 14 from the fish hatchery east to Kelly Flats due to immediate and imminent danger. Fire officials also ordered mandatory evacuations for the Pingree Park Road from Highway 14 south to the housing district east of the Colorado State University Mountain Campus for all residents and businesses.

A voluntary evacuation is also in place east of Pingree Park Road to Stove Prairie Road.

LCSO told residents to evacuate the area immediately and as quickly as possible.

For evacuation updates, text the word LCEVAC to 888777 from your cellphone. LCSO will communicate information to that key word as needed.

Coloradoan editor Eric Larsen can be reached at [email protected] or 970-224-7745. Support journalism in Fort Collins and subscribe today at offers.coloradoan.com/specialoffer.

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