The Cameron Peak Fire grew by 9,883 acres Saturday, as fire incident managers reported it at 34,289 acres on Sunday morning. The fire burned actively and aggressively on Sunday with hot temperatures and high winds, growing primarily to the southeast, fire managers said.
Flames crossed into Rocky Mountain National Park, leading to closures, more residents were evacuated, and officials began looking and planning for if the flames spread further, including to Glen Haven, Estes Park and even Drake. Those areas are not evacuated, but fire officials are looking at how the fire could eventually reach those communities if it continues to grow, and officials cautioned residents in Glen Haven and Dunraven Glade to be ready to leave if the need arises.
“We’re always preparing for the steps beyond,” Sheriff Justin Smith said in an online community meeting on Sunday afternoon.
The biggest area of concern for the fire, burning about 15 miles southwest of Red Feather Lakes, was towards the Pingree Park Road on the southeast section of the fire, said Russ Long, operations section chief. That is the direction the fire was heading most aggressively and where, he said, crews would likely be able to make a stand.
“We’re rallying more resources (there),” said Long. “We’re going to bring in more engines and bring more resources to bear. If it is safe to do so, we’ll make a stand … be ready to suppress and put out spot fires as it hits our control line.”
The red flag conditions caused aggressive fire behavior and smoke and ash visible all across the Front Range on Sunday. Ash was falling as far away as Lafayette, hitting across many different areas of Loveland, and smoke was thick throughout Larimer County and beyond.
The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment issued an air quality advisory for Larimer County through 9 a.m. Monday. The advisory recommended that people who have health conditions such as respiratory illnesses and heart disease, older and younger residents and those in areas of thick smoke to stay inside.
“If visibility is less than 5 miles in smoke in your neighborhood, smoke has reached levels that are unhealthy,” according to the advisory
This weekend, voluntary evacuations were implemented at Red Feather Lakes, Crystal Lakes and Goodell Corner, while a mandatory evacuation was added along the Buckhorn Road from Pennock Pass to County Road 27. These are on top of other, existing evacuations.
Residents are allowed back into their homes during voluntary evacuations, but only emergency services staff are allowed in mandatory evacuation areas. Many residents questioned in an online community meeting whether they would be allowed to send contractors into those areas to help winterize homes and cabins before a snowstorm and freezing temperatures that are predicted hit the area Monday night.
Smith said residents could winterize their own properties in voluntary evacuation areas, but no contractors would be allowed in any areas under any type of evacuation.
The fire moved into the north boundaries of Rocky Mountain National Park on Saturday night, leading to the closure of Trail Ridge Road, Old Fall River Road and several trails and wilderness campsites due to the fire potential as well as the smoke limiting visibility.
Park officials are watching the weather and the fire behavior to see how it could spread further in the park, but Superintendent Darla Sidles said Sunday that they do not yet have an “exact strategy” to stop it in the park.
Red flag conditions are expected to continue Monday with high winds and hot weather, which lead to active, aggressive fire behavior. However, temperatures are predicted to plunge on Monday night with a winter storm bringing 6 inches to 12 inches of snow to the fire site Tuesday.
The snow will help firefighters, but will not put out the fire that was still listed as 5% contained on Sunday and was not expected to be fully contained until Oct. 31, fire officials said.
Long called the storm “a blessing and a curse.” The curse is the high winds that will blow in the cold front, and the blessing is the snow and cooler temperatures.
“It will lay it down just like the thunderstorms did, but it’s not going to put it out,” said Long.
“It helps us. It gives us more time, but it’s not the final answer. We’d have to have repeated storms … It’s going to be firefighters and a season-ending event that will eventually put out the fire.”