Hot and windy weather was keeping the fire danger high across northern Colorado on Sunday, prompting a blaze burning west of Fort Collins to explode.
The Cameron Peak fire near Red Feather Lakes is expected to grow again after ballooning to 53.6 square miles — about a 40% increase — in hot, dry and windy conditions on Saturday. The growth led authorities to renew previously lifted evacuation orders and the fire rained down ash as far away as Greeley, the Coloradoan reported.
(See a map of the evacuation areas below)
The fire spread in various directions, including south into the northern part of Rocky Mountain National Park.
“We expected it to happen,” Russ Long, operations section chief for the firefight, said in a recorded video message, citing the forecast for extreme heat.
Old Fall River Road, a historic and scenic unpaved road in the national park, as well as Trail Ridge Road were closed because of the fire’s growth.
The fire, which ignited on Aug. 13 and is believed to be human-caused, had scorched more than 59,000 acres as of Monday morning. It is 4% contained.
There have been no reports of destroyed structures or injuries.
Hot, dry weather is expected in Colorado until Monday night, when a cold front comes and temperatures are expected to plummet. A winter storm watch is in effect from late Monday until late Tuesday for the Denver area and the high country.
The National Weather Service in Boulder says heavy snow is possible and that higher elevation areas could see up to 14 inches of accumulation.
“Winter will make an early arrival as a strong system from the north will bring much colder temperatures as well as accumulating snow to the region,” the National Weather Service said in a forecast bulletin. “Temperatures will drop quickly behind a cold front Monday night with snow starting shortly after midnight over the higher terrain and foothills.”
The change is weather is expected to be one of the most dramatic in Colorado history. The record one-day temperature change in Denver happened in January 1872, when there was a 66-degree drop.
The cold weather comes after Denver hit an all-time September high of 101 degrees on Saturday. The temperature at Denver International Airport passed 90 degrees on Sunday, meaning the city has passed that threshold for a 72nd time this year.
The all-time record for days at or above 90 degrees in Denver is 73, which was set in 2012.