East Troublesome Fire explodes in size to 170K acres, forcing evacuations around Grand Lake, Estes Park

East Troublesome Fire_Becca Wissman
East Troublesome Fire_by Alan Shadduck's Images of Estes Park
East Troublesome Fire_Oct 21 2020 evening
Posted at 5:58 AM, Oct 22, 2020

UPDATE (Thursday, Oct. 22 3:55 p.m.): Conditions have changed quickly on Thursday afternoon at several of the fires and led to a slew of new evacuations. Click here for live updates Thursday afternoon and evening on all of Colorado’s major wildfires.


GRAND COUNTY, Colo. — The East Troublesome Fire is now almost six times as large as it was around 6 p.m. Wednesday, reaching more than 170,000 acres and forcing evacuations in and around Grand Lake and Estes Park, as well as a total closure of Rocky Mountain National Park.

On Wednesday evening, the fire was estimated at 19,086 acres and 10% containment. By Thursday around 6:30 p.m., officials announced the most updated acreage of 170,000 acres, with 5% containment. Much of this growth is due to the weather, terrain and beetle-kill lodgepole pine, according to the incident management team.

"We planned for the worst," Grand County Sheriff Brett Schroetlin said Thursday. "This is the worst of the worst of the worst."

He said there have been no reported injuries or deaths in connection to the fire, but there were structures lost. The exact number or locations of those structures is not yet known, he said.

"Lots of structure (lost) — very honest," he said.

This growth lands the East Troublesome Fire as the fourth-largest wildfire in Colorado history. An incident commander for the fire said Thursday morning that the fire expanded 20 miles north of Granby and Grant Lake into Rocky Mountain National Park. A Red Flag Warning is in effect until 6 p.m., and winds are expected make the fire extremely active Thursday, according to the incident management team.

Just before 9 a.m. Thursday, a spokesperson from Rocky Mountain National Park announced the entire park had closed to visitors due to the fires west of the Continental Divide. Air quality is hazardous within the park.

Around 11:45 a.m., multiple other areas were placed under pre-evacuation notice, including Granby, Granby Ranch, Grand Elk, Hot Sulphur Springs, County Road 55 to County Road 88, and Highway 7 from Lily Lake to Allens Park, stopping at the Larimer County line, as well as the eastern side of Estes Park (north border of Devils Gulch Road, west border of MacGregor Avenue, south border of Pierson Mountain, and east borders of Highways 34 and 36).

New mandatory evacuations were also issued in west RMNP and the west side of Estes Park, including:

  • Rocky Mountain National Park's west entrance
  • Moraine Park
  • Estes Park Campground
  • Southern part of Highway 7 north to Mary's Lake
  • South and east borders of Fish Creek Road
  • West border of Mary's Lake Road
  • Peak View Drive (including Aerial Tramway and north to include Deer Ridge)
  • Estes Park between N. St. Vrain Avenue, Curry Drive, Acacia Drive and Fish Creek Road

All traffic going into Estes Park closed around 12:30 p.m. Only outbound traffic is being allowed.

In addition, the Routt National Forest is helping the Jackson County Sheriff's Office in evacuating hunters from the national forest.

The entire town of Grand Lake was evacuated Wednesday, along with all residents north, west and along Highway 34. This includes the area east of Highway 125 from mile post 5 to Highway 40.

Evacuees were told to go south on Highway 34, if possible. An evacuation center is set up in the Winter Park and Fraser area, off of Highway 40. Call 970-725-3803 for more information.

In total, about 6,500 homes were evacuated for this fire as of Thursday afternoon, officials said.

Click here for an interactive evacuation map, which is also shown below.

Grand County residents can sign up for CodeRED alerts to receive emergency notifications regarding this fire and other disasters. Click here to sign up.

READ MORE: How you can help victims of Colorado's wildfires

Several stretches of highways are also closed in the area:

  • Highway 34 between the intersection of Highway 40 in Granby (mile point 1) and and Grand Lake
  • Highway 40 in both directions between Hot Sulfur Springs (mile point 202) and the intersection with Highway 34 (mile point 211)
  • Highway 125 near Granby north of US 40 from mile marker 0 to mile marker 27
  • Highway 14 between Walden and Rustic
  • US 34 Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park

Travel is highly discouraged north and northwest of Boulder and Grand Counties.

Around 1 a.m. on Thursday in a Facebook video, Grand County Sheriff Schroetlin explained just how difficult the day had been.

"I have a message," he said. "I'm not even sure what those words are. Today (Wednesday) has been an extremely, extremely challenging day for our community. We knew this fire was here. We knew the impacts of it. We looked at every possible potential for this fire. We never, ever expected 6,000 acres per hour to come upon our community."

He said the winds were strong and as a result, the fire's behavior was strong. They've never experienced challenges like Wednesday, he said. However, the community stepped up.

"As we drive around this northern part of Grand County, I don't know what we'll see in the morning, to be honest," he said. "But you know what? Together, as a community, we're going to get through this."

He said authorities made "some incredible rescues" on Wednesday. In a press conference later in the day, Schroetlin gave an example: Four loggers were stuck on a county road and were surrounded by the fire. Their vehicle was burning and they called for help. Deputies were dying to get in to help and, thanks to the Grand County Fire Department, the authorities were able to rescue the loggers as they tried to self-rescue, he said. That instance was just one of many, Schroetlin said.

An incident commander Thursday morning said they are trying to get a fire line in place along the fire's southern edge, north of Highway 34. The western edges of the fire held, an incident commander said Thursday morning.

High winds followed by a cold front are expected Thursday. More resources from the Calwood Fire and Lefthand Canyon Fire are coming in to help around the Grand Lake and Granby areas.

Scott Jalbert with Rocky Mountain Area Command said they do not have the resources to completely envelope the fire.

"These are large fires," he explained. "We’re in defensive mode to protect what we can. As weather comes around, we’ll do our best efforts to tackle it head on."

A light dusting of snow in Estes Park on Thursday evening won't bring too much moisture, but will bring enough to keep things damp, according to Greg Hanson with the National Weather Service. Strong winds will persist Saturday that could still push the fire around, he said. There's a better chance of snow Saturday evening through Monday morning, though it won't be a "season ender," Hanson said. However, it will slow things down enough for firefighters to try to get the upper hand.

He said he is optimistic that while the fire may grow close to Estes Park's western side, he thinks "the city itself will be OK."

It's not typical to see these kinds of fire conditions this late in the season, but Hanson said hopefully November brings enough snow to "put these fires to bed."

Rocky Mountain National Park and the Continental Divide stand between the East Troublesome Fire and Cameron Peak Fire, but according to Grand County's mapping, the fires' edges are about 11 miles from each other as of Thursday early afternoon. Around 1:20 p.m., the National Weather Service said the East Troublesome Fire had jumped to the eastern side of the Continental Divide.

Noel Livingston, fire incident commander said given how the winds have acted and are acting, there is potential that the East Troublesome Fire and Cameron Peak Fire could merge.

Troublesome to Cameron Peak_Oct 22 2:30pm

A public meeting is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Thursday on the fire's Facebook page.

During a press conference Thursday morning, Grand County Commissioner Kristen Manguso spoke to a small group, which was broadcasted online.

"We do pull together," Manguso said. "We are grand. We are going to heal from this. We’re going to help people heal from this."

The fire was first reported on Oct. 14 north of Hot Sulphur Springs. The cause remains under investigation, though Mike Morgan, director of the Colorado Division of Fire Prevention and Control, said during a press conference Thursday that "it is believed it's going to be ruled as human-caused, but ... no determination yet."

The state's 10 largest wildfires in history, ranked by acreage, are:
1. Cameron Peak Fire (2020): 206,977 acres
2. East Troublesome Fire (2020): 170,000 acres
3. Pine Gulch Fire (2020): 139,007 acres
4. Hayman Fire (2002): 137,760 acres
5. Spring Fire (2018): 108,045 acres
6. High Park Fire (2012): 87,284 acres
7. Missionary Ridge Fire (2002): 72,962 acres
8. 416 Fire (2018): 54,000 acres
9. Bridger Fire (2008): 45,800 acres
10. Last Chance Fire (2012): 45,000 acres
Note: The Rocky Mountain Area Coordination Center said the West Fork Complex fire, which burned a total of 109,632 acres in 2013, is not included on this list since it involved three separate fires.

Gov. Jared Polis is urging all Coloradans and visitors to take all measures to avoid additional fires.

"This might not be the last of the fires and a big part of that is up to us," he said.

He said Colorado is seeing drier, hotter conditions — ideal for rapid growth for forest fires. He said this is one of the many reasons that Colorado is working to become a leader in reducing carbon emissions.

Denver7 Gives has started a new fundraising campaign for victims of Colorado's wildfires. To donate, go here and then look for "Help Colorado Wildfire Victims" in the dropdown. We are working with our community partners up and down the Front Range to ensure every dollar raised stays in Colorado and helps families who've lost so much.