UPDATE — We have an updated story from Wednesday morning here.
LARIMER COUNTY, Colo. — A 133-acre wildfire that broke out Tuesday morning near Kruger Rock in Larimer County, which is about two and a half miles south of downtown Estes Park, forcing mandatory evacuations for nearby neighborhoods, is now 15% contained.
The Estes Valley Fire Protection District said the fire, called the Kruger Rock Fire, was reported just before 7 a.m. and is burning in the area of Little Valley Drive and Fish Creek Road. Winds in the area are blowing 40 to 50 mph and are expected to stay the same or grow stronger through the afternoon. Red Flag Warnings, which mean critical fire weather conditions will happen soon or are already occurring, are in place up and down the Front Range until 5 p.m. Tuesday, though it doesn't include Larimer County.
The Estes Park Emergency Communications Center said mandatory evacuations are underway for residents and businesses due to "immediate and imminent danger" in the following areas:
- Little Valley Drive
- Hermit Park
- Uplands of Fish Creek Road
- Along Highway 36 from mile marker 9 (just southeast of Estes Park) south to the Boulder County line (including Big Elk Meadows and Pinewood Springs west of Highway 36)
- Pole Hill Road to Panorama Peak on the east side of Highway 36
Overnight sheltering for evacuees is available at the YMCA at 2515 Tunnel Road in Estes Park. Small pets are welcome and residents affected by the fire do not need to make reservations. LifeBridge Church has opened up as an overnight shelter, Larimer County officials said.
The map below shows mandatory evacuations in red and voluntary evacuations in yellow. (You can zoom in by double clicking.)
The American Red Cross Evacuation Center has opened at Estes Park Fairgrounds, located at 1209 Manford Avenue, for anybody in need. Small animals can be brought to the Larimer Humane Society, located at 3501 E. 71st Street in Loveland, and larger animals can be held at The Ranch at 5280 Arena Circle in Loveland.
Structures are threatened, but none have been damaged as of 9:50 a.m., according to the Larimer County Sheriff's Office.
Colorado State Patrol said around 10:50 a.m. that Highway 36 had closed between Mall Road in Estes Park and Pinewood Springs, just north of Lyons. Drivers are also asked to avoid Highway 34 to Estes Park.
For updates on this fire, text LCEVAC to 888777, or call 970-980-2500.
The Larimer County Sheriff's Office confirmed in their 10:30 p.m. update the fire started after high winds blew a tree onto a nearby power line, which caused it to arc and start the fire.
A total of 150 firefighters were fighting to put out the blaze, the sheriff's office said in a tweet. More air resources have been ordered for Wednesday along with additional fire crews.
By 3:30 p.m. Tuesday, the U.S. Forest Service had closed National Forest System lands south and east of Estes Park. Rocky Mountain National Park closed the Twin Sisters area, including the trail and parking area. Violating the closure is punishable as a Class B misdemeanor by a fine of up to $10,000, imprisonment for up to 6 months, or both, according to the order from the USFS. A detailed view of the closures can be viewed in the images below.
According to Estes Park, a power outage was reported in the area just before 7 a.m., but has been restored. Power remains shut off to Little Valley due to the fire operations.
At approximately 6:47 p.m., the Larimer County Sheriff's Office received reports that a single-engine air tanker had crashed south of Estes Park near where the fire is burning. At approximately 9:49 p.m. search teams located the crash site near the south end of Hermit Park. The pilot, who was the sole occupant, did not survive.
In 2020, Estes Park dealt with threats from the two largest wildfires in state history — the Cameron Peak Fire and East Troublesome Fire.
"We knew it was very close as we evacuated"
Debbie Goldwater, a neighbor who was forced to evacuate due to the Kruger Rock Fire, told Denver7 Tuesday she wasn't panicked as soon as the order to evacuate came down from Larimer County as she's "been through fire before."
"There was a tremendous show of force between the fire and police department and the sheriff's department and the park rangers," Goldwater said, as she described grabbing what she and her family could carry before throwing it the family vehicle. "We could see the smoke and we knew it was very close as we evacuated. The smoke was dark and it was growing very rapidly. You could tell I was getting bigger by the smoke that was coming up."
Larimer County Sheriff Justin Smith told Denver7 the fire grew pretty fast, driven by significant wind behavior in the mountains. He said the fire appears to be electrical in nature, but added an investigator at the scene is still looking into the cause.
Smith also said this fire is difficult to fight because it's running up a hill, moving into the Hermit Park area.
"We are anchoring off the back of it to keep it from getting back down to the neighborhood," Smith told Denver7, saying crews are working to prevent the blaze from reaching Hermit Peak as it can "grow significantly in size" if it reaches that section of terrain.
Though the fire is heading in the directions of homes, it's still a few miles off, he said. Still, his team is consulting with the Boulder County Sheriff's Office to give them some situational awareness of where the fire might be headed in the next several hours.
"Honestly, we don't feel like our home is in danger," said Keith Peterson, a resident of the Meadow Hills area who was also forced to evacuate. "It is nerve-wracking, honestly, this is the first time in 13 or 14 months that we've done this," he said. "It's not something we want to get used to, so we just want to stay ahead of these kind of dangers and make sure they don’t become life-threatening."