Bernard Jambor peered up No Name Creek in Glenwood Canyon on Tuesday while standing astride his bicycle and considered the future of the hiking trail heading up that side canyon.
Large plumes of smoke were visible in the canyon’s upper reaches, where ground crews and aircraft have been fighting to keep the Grizzly Creek Fire on the east side of No Name Creek so it can’t run west and threaten Glenwood Springs.
Asked about No Name Trail, Jambor said, “I think it’s not going to look the same for a long time.”
Jambor, a homeowner in the unincorporated community of No Name east of Glenwood Springs, could just as easily have been speaking about the canyon as a whole.
Since the fire started along Interstate 70 on Aug. 10, it has swept through much of Glenwood Canyon, grown to 27,000 acres, charred many hillsides, scorched the undersides of some elevated portions of I-70 and sent rocks and burned logs down onto the highway and the railroad going through the canyon. I-70 has been closed for more than a week, with no estimates on when it may reopen. A train managed to snake through the canyon Tuesday with coal and other freight after days of closure. In at least one stretch, the convoy passed by vegetation that still smoked heavily.
Once travel by the public is allowed through the canyon again, the appearance of parts of it may come as something of a shock.
West of Grizzly Creek where the fire started, it burned hot and consumed much in its path, leaving hillsides full of skeletal remains of trees and brush clinging to ash-gray hillsides.
“It’s going to leave a strong negative impression for sure” on the public, fire spokesman Wayne Patterson said of that canyon stretch during a media tour of the canyon Tuesday.
“It’s going to be a shock,” said Tom Story, another fire spokesman.
Farther east, the fire skipped here and there, leaving broad stretches of green in some areas, while some side drainages and other sizable swaths of acreage still largely went up in flames.
Plumes of smoke still rose Tuesday in many parts of the canyon, adding to the dense morning haze from the fire.
The main focus of firefighting efforts now is centering on the No Name drainage on the west and the Bair Ranch area on the east. The upper valley above Bair Ranch has burned but crews have protected ranch structures down below and have been successful so far in keeping the fire from advancing farther east to threaten the residential area of Dotsero.
The fire so far has burned one cabin and two outbuildings.
In a staging area off the Dotsero exit of I-70 for heavy firefighting ground equipment, Jeremy Guthrie waited for sheep to clear a road on the way to the fire Tuesday so he could head out to help fight the fire using a “skidgine.” It’s a cross between a skidder often used in logging operations and a wildland fire engine. With tank-like tracks rather than wheels, it can get water to a fire in steep terrain and use a front-end blade to move debris from roads for other vehicles.
Guthrie, 44, is working for a firefighting contractor out of Montana and is excited to be seeing Colorado for the first time. Although the appearance of Glenwood Canyon post-fire may be unsettling for people who have seen it before, he described it as “incredible” after being allowed to drive through the gorge, home to the Colorado River and multi-colored rock layers hundreds of millions years old.
“The mountains of Montana are completely different,” Guthrie said.
No Name, Jambor’s home, has a slightly altered look these days thanks to the work of firefighters.
They have cut down brush in some areas, widened roads as potential fire breaks and cleared fire lines in other areas, all with the goal of better protecting homes should the fire reach the community. Water hoses also are in place in case they’re needed, as is also the case for the Xcel Energy’s Shoshone hydroelectric power plant in the canyon.
Jambor applauds the response by fire crews.
“They’ve done a great job,” he said.
No Name was evacuated early last week and remains under evacuation. But Jambor chose to stay in his home, even after having watched flames at the top of a ridge above his property last week.
“It’s been pretty rough,” he said about the last week. “The fire of course, the smoke, the evacuation.”
Water and power were out for a time but were restored.
“I just never left,” said Jambor, who instead has been looking after neighbors’ homes and pets.
He has little company these days, with all his neighbors having evacuated rather than choosing to remain in their homes.
“I might be the last one as of (Tuesday) morning,” he said. “There might be one more.”
More than 700 firefighters were on hand as of Tuesday continuing to fight the blaze with the goal of eventually letting evacuated residents in No Name and elsewhere get home and helping allow I-70 to be reopened.
Seventeen helicopters also are part of the firefighting effort.
“This is one of the biggest helicopter shows I’ve ever seen in my life,” Patterson said of that component of the firefighting effort.
Helicopters are using water from the Colorado River and from a temporary retardant refilling station set up on westbound I-70 just west of the No Name exit. It’s all part of a firefighting effort that so far has cost some $10 million.
Officials have been gaining optimism about the firefighting effort thanks in part to favorable winds in recent days that have let them build more fire lines directly adjacent to the fire front. Dry thunderstorms and wind expected this week remain a concern.
The central part of western Colorado this year has been pretty much shut out when it comes to wet thunderstorms that can result when seasonal monsoonal weather patterns bring up moisture from the Southwest. The result has been large Colorado fires such as Grizzly Creek and the Pine Gulch blaze.
“It’s a tough year for Colorado this year,” said Patterson.
He remembers from his early days on a Hot Shot crew that when the monsoon rains failed to materialize in Four Corners states, including Colorado by the Fourth of July, firefighters could expect to be fighting fires in those states that summer. That’s how things are playing out again this year, he said.
Meanwhile, rocks and burned trees that continue to fall onto the highway and places such as the concrete portion of the trail leading to Hanging Lake serve as reminders that even after the fire is out, threats will remain to the highway and canyon trails that will require attention before public access can safely be restored. Another threat will be posed when rains do come because they could cause debris flows.
Thankfully, the area immediately around Hanging Lake hasn’t burned, despite fire that has occurred nearby, and Patterson said officials continue holding their breath that it will continue to remain unscathed.