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The East Troublesome fire races toward Grand Lake on Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2020. (Grand County Sheriff's Office)
The East Troublesome fire races toward Grand Lake on Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2020. (Grand County Sheriff’s Office)

THE LATEST: “An extremely, extremely challenging day”: Widespread destruction feared after East Troublesome fire explodes

The East Troublesome fire in Grand County exploded east on Wednesday toward Grand Lake, prompting hasty and dramatic evacuations over a broad area and creating a smoke plume so large it was visible on the Front Range.

“We’ve had a lot of activity today,” Incident Commander Jake Winfield during said during a video briefing on Wednesday night.

“The fire is growing faster than we can catch it right now,” Winfield warned.

Winfield said the blaze, burning about two hours northwest of Denver and 45 minutes north of Winter Park, is “outflanking” fire crews.

A map of the East Troublesome fire before it exploded east on Wednesday. (Handout)

The Grand County Sheriff’s Office on Wednesday night initially issued an evacuation order for all areas west of U.S. 34 along Grand Lake, a massive area which runs between Granby and Estes Park.

Colorado 125 has been shut down between Granby and Walden because the fire has jumped the roadway. Homes in that area, including large, multi-million dollar ranches, have been evacuated as well.

The evacuation area was then expanded at about 8:30 p.m. to include the entire town of Grand Lake, a popular vacation spot and home to about 500 people, and its immediate surroundings. Authorities were hastily working to clear people, as well as first responders, from the blaze’s fast-moving path.

The west side of Rocky Mountain National Park has been closed because of the fire, however its high-mountain roadways have been opened for fleeing evacuees.

“Trail Ridge Road is currently open for evacuation eastbound if needed,” a park spokeswoman, Kyle Patterson, said in a written statement. “There is low visibility reported due to smoke on Trail Ridge Road. … Travelers should be aware of smoke, wind, weather and fire conditions as fire activity is rapidly changing and road closures may be put in place quickly. “

Grand County Sheriff Brett Schroetlin said Wednesday evening that he’s not too worried about Granby, another population center, being evacuated or being directly affected by the fire. Hot Sulphur Springs, he said, also appears to be out of harm’s way for the time being.

The fire, which began on Oct. 14 near Kremmling, has burned about 30,000 acres, including roughly 10,000 acres on Wednesday alone. It is 10% contained. Its cause is under investigation.

The Cal-Wood and Lefthand Canyon fires in Boulder County, which ignited over the weekend and quickly burned thousands of acres, were relatively inactive on Wednesday, but fierce winds are heading into the area on Wednesday night into Thursday.

Officials evacuated Lyons Park Estates on the northeast side of the Cal-Wood fire as a precaution in anticipation of the windstorm. Already the Cal-Wood fire has destroyed 20 homes.

Some people were anxious about smoke over Boulder on Wednesday being from the Boulder County fires, but officials say it was actually from the East Troublesome fire.

MORE: Five charts that show where 2020 ranks in Colorado wildfire history

All of Colorado is under drought status and facing extreme fire conditions after a hot, dry summer. The U.S. Forest Service closed the Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forests in Clear Creek, Jefferson, Gilpin, Boulder, and Larimer counties on Wednesday out of fear of another fire starting.

Firefighting resources are being spread thin between the Boulder County blazes, the East Troublesome fire and the still-raging Cameron Peak fire west of Fort Collins, which last week because the largest in Colorado’s recorded history.

A reprieve in the form of a significant snowstorm is expected to move into Colorado over the weekend. However firefighters are still bracing for several more weeks battling the blazes afflicting the state.

Jesse Paul is a Denver-based political reporter and editor at The Colorado Sun, covering the state legislature, Congress and local politics. He is the author of The Unaffiliated newsletter and also occasionally fills in on breaking news coverage....