Editor’s Note: Interstate 70 has since re-opened. Find the latest story here.
A second weekend mudslide flowing from the Grizzly Creek burn scar closed Interstate 70 in both directions through Glenwood Canyon on Sunday.
The highway was closed in both directions between the West Rifle and Dotsero exits after muddy debris covered an area in Glenwood Canyon more than 80 feet wide and 5 feet deep, according to the Colorado Department of Transportation.
As of 8 a.m. Monday, there was no estimated time of reopening.
A mudslide Saturday closed both eastbound and westbound lanes around 3:30 p.m, with eastbound lanes reopening around 7 p.m., according to CDOT. The westbound lanes reopened late Saturday night.
CDOT said the mud from the first slide was 5 to 7 feet deep and 70 feet wide across the highway near mile marker 119, between the No Name and Grizzly Creek rest areas. No injuries or trapped vehicles were reported, the transportation department said.
Crews with heavy machinery were planning to work through Saturday night to remove the debris. CDOT’s Kane Schneider said the loose dirt was “really soupy.”
“Every time we take a scoop away, it just flows into the space we removed the debris from,” he said. “It’s kind of a losing battle.”
CDOT saw the storm coming on Saturday. At 2:30 p.m., the agency began closing the rest areas and recreation path in Glenwood Canyon and crews were on standby. At 3:47 p.m., the National Weather Service issued a flash flood warning for western Eagle County and eastern Garfield County. The service said radar indicated heavy rains over the Grizzly Creek burn area, with as much as 1-inch of rain in an hour.
“Flash flooding is ongoing or will be expected to begin shortly,” the weather service warned.
Fire managers last summer warned that the Grizzly Creek burn scar — 32,631-acres in and above Glenwood Canyon — posed a threat to the highway and began mitigation work when the fire was just 10% contained. As part of that work, the U.S. Geological Service created a landslide hazard map the map that identified several steep areas near the canyon’s Grizzly and No Name creeks where the likelihood of debris flow is 60% to 80% following rainfall of an inch an hour.
Schneider said “the debris flow was unforecasted.”
Motorists traveling on I-70 were offered a detour route by CDOT. Eastbound motorists can go north on Colorado 13 from Rifle to Craig, then eastbound on U.S. 40 to Steamboat Springs over Rabbit Ears Pass to Kremmling and then following Colorado 9 to Silverthorne. Westbound travelers can follow the route in reserve.
The transportation department also warned against using navigation programs to find alternative routes. “There are many auxiliary roads such as Cottonwood Pass, Hagerman Pass and Eagle/Thomasville Road that are not passable and do not have cell service. Cottonwood Pass is restricted to local traffic only,” CDOT wrote in a news release. On Saturday evening, CDOT officials said they did not want people traveling on Cottonwood Pass.
Pitkin County Sheriff’s deputies were stationed on Colorado 82 Saturday to stop over-length vehicles from attempting to detour over Independence Pass between Aspen and Leadville.
Because debris slid into No Name Creek above where the city of Glenwood Springs draws its water, officials asked residents to refrain from outdoor water use. The temporary suspension of lawn irrigation gives water crews a chance to evaluate the debris flow’s impact on water quality in the city’s watershed, Glenwood Springs spokeswoman Bryana Starbuck said Saturday.
“There was a little bit extra coming at us and we wanted to take precautions,” Starbuck said, noting that the city’s water remained safe for drinking.