Williams Fork Fire information and updates
Start Date: August 14, 2020
Structures lost: none
Origin Location: Williams Fork Drainage
Jurisdiction: Arapaho National Forest
Size: 12,157 acres
Estimated Containment Date: October 31, 2020
Location: 15 miles SW of Fraser
Total Personnel: 254
Personnel Incident Commander: Portland NIMO Day/RMA Blue Team Hayden
Red Flag Warnings in effect for low humidity and strong winds today as a strong cold front approaches from the north this evening and overnight. Very strong winds this afternoon with westerly winds of 20 to 25 mph sustained with gusts to 40 mph. High winds continue into the evening hours. The strong cold front expected to move through the area early Tuesday morning, bringing sharply colder temperatures and accumulating snow Tuesday into Wednesday. The upper low associated with this storm system closes off over the 4 Corners area and very slowly moves northeast into eastern Wyoming by Saturday.
Cold temperatures and chances for snow continue each day through at least Saturday.
A cold front moving through the area today will bring snow and higher humidity. Precipitation will cool hot areas and wet fuels, resulting in decreased fire activity throughout the day. Helicopter operations may be shut down due to poor visibility caused by weather and smoke conditions.
Yesterday, fire lines along the St. Louis Creek and Crooked Creek roads were completed. Helicopter water drops along the north and south edges of the fire prevented any significant spread. Firefighters continued to monitor structure protection around the Bobtail Mine and Denver Water facilities.
Fire managers are closely monitoring fire behavior related to weather changes. Firefighters will be staged to react, as needed, to any changes in fire behavior where it is safe for them to do so.
Weather: The forecast weather for today includes falling temperatures and widespread snow. The high for today will be in the low 40’s with temperatures falling to the low 20’s by evening. Windchill temperatures below zero will be a safety concern for fire managers.
Projected Incident Activity: Next 2 hours: Red Flag Warning for strong winds and low humidity/poor overnight recoveries as well as widely scattered dry thunderstorms this afternoon. Fire will see very strong winds as a cold front approaches from the north, creating a strong wind gradient between the front and the slowly retreating high pressure system. Increasing mid level moisture will bring dry afternoon, high based thunderstorms to the area with strong and erratic wind gusts. Slightly lower temperatures, but still very warm with highs in the upper 70s. Afternoon humidity under 10 to 15 percent. Afternoon wind gusts approaching 40 mph expected, mainly from the west through the day. Strong winds will lower slightly during this evening, with gusts 25 to 35 mph expected. Front approaches from the northeast, with winds shifting to the northeast after 0300 Tuesday. Rain showers developing this evening, turning over to snow early Tuesday morning as colder air behind the front filters into the area. Fire behavior will consist of surface fire, torching and short uphill runs. Possible fire spread from Keyser Ridge towards Keyser Divide trail to the east. Interior upslope runs in partially burned areas along the Williams Fork. The fire will spread east at high elevation in the St. Louis peak area. Critical weather and fuel conditions may cause high intensity wind driven runs with spotting on initial attack.
24 hours: From record highs to record lows! Very cold temperatures and widespread snow expected through the day Tuesday. High temperatures near 40 degrees will occur early Tuesday morning, with falling temperatures through the day into the mid 20s by afternoon. Snow expected to continue through Wednesday morning. Northeast winds of 20 to 30 mph will create blowing snow and poor visibility. Windchill temperatures in the teens by Tuesday noon, near zero windchills during the afternoon and close to 10 below zero Tuesday evening. These very cold windchill temperatures will continue overnight into Wednesday morning. Snow accumulations of 2 inches in lower valley floors, with 4 inches over the fire. Locally higher amounts of 6 to 8 inches on northern and eastern facing slopes are possible. Frostbite and hypothermia risks increase significantly Tuesday afternoon into Wednesday morning. Fire behavior will be minimal with no spread under snow conditions.
48 hours: Snow expected to continue through Wednesday morning. Frostbite and hypothermia risks high Wednesday night into Thursday morning, with expected wind chills of 5 to 10 below zero. It will be unstable Wednesday afternoon, so we could see scattered afternoon snow showers. Morning lows near 12 degrees with afternoon highs in the low to mid 30s. Fire behavior will be minimal with no spread under snowy conditions.
72 hours: Chances for snow showers are possible through Thursday as the slow moving upper low pressure system slowly meanders northeast. Below normal temperatures expected. Overnight lows in the mid 20s with afternoon highs in the low 40s expected. Fire weather concerns minimal, but cold overnight temperatures could impact fire personnel. Personnel exposed to the elements for prolonged periods of time in the evening and morning Thursday night and Friday morning, face increased risk of hypothermia and other cold related injuries. Minimal fire behavior will continue.
Anticipated after 72 hours: Slowly warming temperatures and dry weather expected Friday into the weekend as upper low moves into eastern Wyoming through Saturday. Minimal fire behavior in residual heat due to recent precipitation. Longer term, fire behavior will follow weather trends and fuel conditions.
Due to steep rugged terrain and dead and dying trees caused by Bark Beetle, indirect fire line tactics are being utilized. Natural barriers such as avalanche chutes, rock screes, high elevation alpine tundra ridges, previous fuel treatment areas, recent burn scars, and wet drainages have been identified to slow the fire’s spread. Bottle Pass, Saint Louis Pass, Fraser Experimental Forest (FEF) Headquarters and the Denver Water buildings located in the Bobtail drainage have been identified as areas of point zone protection. Fuels mitigation and placement of water handling equipment have been completed around the structures in both the FEF Headquarters and Denver Water facilities. This area is located along the Williams Fork and CR 30/FS 138 road. Firefighters were able to complete direct line using hand crews and equipment along with burnout operations to contain the fire in what is currently DIV A. Approximately 100% of the exterior line has been completed.
Overview: The Williams Fork fire is burning on the Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forests and Pawnee National Grassland seven miles Southwest of Fraser, Colorado. The human-caused fire started near the Henderson Mill August 14th and quickly grew due to high winds and steep slopes. Local firefighters immediately responded. Very hot, dry and windy conditions allowed the fire to race through the timbered crowns of the Lodgepole Pine, fir and aspen forest.
The fire is now more than three weeks old and is over 12,000 acres. The area around the Henderson Mine and Mill is considered contained and is not expected to threaten the communities of Fraser, Tabernash and Winter Park. There are no evacuation orders in effect nor pre-evacuation notices as of Aug 31. In the very unlikely event the fire moves north and requires Grand County to issue an evacuation notice, emergency management personnel pre-identified an evacuation center located at the Inn at Silvercreek at 62927 US-40, Granby, CO 80446 in the event an evacuation is necessary. A map of evacuation areas is located online.
The fire is burning within Game Management Unit 28. Hunter holding licenses in game management units impacted by the fire may be able to request a refund and reinstatement of preference points used to draw the license. Please contact the Colorado Parks and Wildlife for more information.
Firefighter’s Management Strategy
The Fire is burning through the steep and heavily timbered terrain near Colorado’s Continental Divide. This remote, and high elevation topography makes it difficult and dangerous for wildland firefighters to access and contain. Working with long term fire behavior analysts, forest and other natural resource specialists, Williams Fork firefighters are using two standard wildland fire strategies to manage the Williams Fork Fire. On the west and southwest flank, along County Roads 3 and 30, firefighters are constructing containment line to keep the fire from damaging the Henderson Mill and crossing the Williams Fork River. On the north and eastern flank where the fire is burning dead beetle-killed timber in and around the mountain peaks, firefighters are improving roads and other natural features that can safely confine the fire’s growth to the Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forest. Combined, these strategies are prioritized to protect communities and firefighter safety while helping to enhance future forest health. The fire is expected to burn until sustained wetting rains or snow extinguishes the fire.
Smoke Advisory: Smoke from the Williams Fork Fire and smoke drifting into Grand County from fires further west continue to impact residents and visitors. Information about air quality advisories and health concerns related to wildfire smoke can be found at https://wildlandfiresmoke.net/outlooks/CentralColoradoFrontRange
Fire Restrictions: Due to statewide dry and drought conditions and significant fires burning across the state, the Governor Jared Polis has enacted a statewide ban on open burning. Stage 2 fire restrictions are in effect in Grand County. For official fire information, maps and photos, please visit https://inciweb.nwcg.gov/incident/6971/
Forest Closures: The U.S. Forest Service has a large closure area in effect west of Winter Park and Fraser that includes roads, trails and campgrounds. Please visit www.fs.udsa.gov/arp for details.
- Roads: Co Rd 30, Co Rd 50 starting at Young Life, Forest Service Roads 133, 134.1, 137, 138, 139, 148, 259 & all roads within Forest closure area.
- Forest Service Trailheads: Lower Creekside, St. Louis Creek, Leland Creek, St. Louis Lake, Byers Peak, Deadhorse, South Fork, Williams Fork, Darling Creek, Ute Peak, Lake Evelyn, Kinney Creek, Vasquez Peak, Keyser Ridge, Jones Pass, Elk Meadows, Mt. Nystrom, Boardwalk, Twin Bridges, & all trails within Forest closure area.
- Forest Service Campgrounds: South Fork, Sugarloaf, Horseshoe, St. Louis Creek
Evacuations: There are no evacuation orders for residential areas in the Fraser Valley. Residents and guests to the area can receive emergency notifications by signing up for CodeRED at www.gcemergency.com and downloading the mobile app to their phones.
Temporary Flight Restrictions: Temporary flight restrictions (TFR) are in effect around the entire fire area. Remember that temporary flight restrictions also apply to unmanned aircraft systems (drones). If you fly, we can’t!
Forest Service information https://inciweb.nwcg.gov/incident/6971/
The Grand County Sheriff’s Office is creating an interactive evacuation map that will be launched tomorrow, helping inform residents of pre-determined evacuation areas. This map will be located on the http://www.gcemergency.com website. Currently there are no evacuation orders for the Fraser Valley.
Forest Closure is in effect west of Winter Park, and Fraser, and includes, Vasquez Creek, St Louis Creek, Church Park and more. Closure order and map
Evacuation Areas: West: CR 3 and CR 30, North: Keyser Creek, South: Darling Creek, East: Church Park
Pre-Evacuations Areas: CR 50, CR 50S, CR 73, Aspen Canyon, Morgan Gulch, and Henderson Mill
Notifications: Sign up for CodeRed at http://www.gcemergency.com
Public Information Line: 970-445-2910 open 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Media Phone Line: 970-445-4941 open 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.
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