EAGLE — Gov. Jared Polis said Friday a portion of Interstate 70 could be closed for another two to three days as firefighters battle a wildfire that has forced evacuations and scorched about 23 square miles in western Colorado.
“Literally, the flames are right on the edge of the highway,” Polis said during a news conference at the Eagle County Fairgrounds after meeting with the fire’s incident commander, The Vail Daily reported.
“They’re doing their best, and so far they have been successful in having one lane open for emergency access of fire vehicles and firefighting supplies and personnel,” he said.
The Grizzly Creek fire burning in a canyon east of Glenwood Springs has shut down a 57-mile portion of Interstate 70 for five days.
The closure of I-70, the state’s main east-west artery, has forced drivers headed across Colorado to take long detours. Colorado Highway 82 over Independence Pass near Aspen was closed Wednesday after heavy traffic on the sometimes narrow mountain road, which was not a recommended detour, created unsafe conditions. Multiple vehicles towing trailers became stuck on the pass.
The route reopened on Friday, but only in a limited capacity.
“It’s kind of like a game of whack-a-mole,” said Amber Barrett, a spokeswoman for the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office. “You close one road, and another one becomes a problem.”
Officials are encouraging people not to travel west on I-70 this weekend.
The blaze is the top priority wildfire in the country because of the I-70 shutdown, which has strained local and regional supply chains.
The fire also burned through the area of Hanging Lake, one of Colorado’s most popular and visited natural attractions. Officials were able to fly over the area on Friday to inspect it.
“We’re happy to report that the main front and the most intense part of the fire did not seem to impact Hanging Lake or the immediate area,” said Scott Fitzwilliams, supervisor of the White River National Forest, during a briefing Friday evening.
Fitzwilliams said, however, that the broader area surrounding the lake was exposed to intense heat and burning. He said it will be some time before the full impacts of the blaze on the landmark are known.
“We won’t know for awhile what the long-term impacts (are) because Hanging Lake is more about the whole hydrology of the area,” he said. “But, for now, we’re feeling good.”
Some homes east of Glenwood Springs have been evacuated, and residents in other areas have been told to be prepared to leave if the fire intensifies.
Polis said the fire is burning mostly on U.S. Forest Service land, but it has also scorched several hundred acres of federal public land managed by the Bureau of Land Management.
Homes have also been evacuated by a wildfire that was started by lightning on July 31 north of Grand Junction. The Pine Gulch fire had grown to nearly 115 square miles and was 7 percent contained as of Friday.
The Pine Gulch blaze is now the fourth largest in Colorado history.
The Cameron Peak fire west of Fort Collins, which ignited on Thursday, has burned more than 4,500 acres. It, too, has prompted evacuations and led to the closure of Colorado 14.
On Friday officials announced that a fourth major wildfire had sparked in Colorado. The Williams Forks blaze is burning on more than 800 acres just south of Parshall in Grand County.
The fire is near the Henderson Mill, an important economic driver for Grand and Clear Creek counties that tied to the Henderson Mine in Empire.
The Williams Forks fire has prompted the evacuation of two campgrounds. A number of aerial firefighting resources were being directed to the fire on fire.