Alaska Team settling into management of Grizzly Creek Fire

Ross Leonhart
Vail Daily
With the possibility of rain and precipitation in the next couple of days, Colorado Department of Transportation crews are preparing for possible closures due to rock falls that come with rain. This photo was captured earlier in August.
Chris Dillmann |

The Alaska Interagency Incident Management Team working the Grizzly Creek Fire are picking up where the Great Basin Incident Management Team left off, having taken command since Tuesday. Made up of about 80 personnel, the Alaska Team includes experts in operations, plans, logistics, finance, aviation, safety and communications. In total, over 700 personnel are working on containing the fire.

“The Great Basin Team was here before us,” Alaska Team Incident Commander Tom Kurth said during Thursday’s community meeting on Facebook. “They did a lot of heavy lifting on this whole fire. They’re the ones that were first in as a Type 1 team and had the most complicated problems. They did certainly an outstanding job. We’re coming in to relieve them and we’ll pick up and take over where they left off.”

On Thursday, Alaska Team Operations Chief Jon Glover said the fire is at about 32,302 acres with about 61% containment. He added there are 13 crews, including five helicopters, 37 engines, 13 water tankers, 10 dozers and a few skidders.

“You might ask, why the Alaska Team?” Kurth said. “Well, we come from big-time fire country. We have lots of fire. We have fire-prone ecosystems and then we have a limited amount of firefighters, so we see each other on a regular basis … and go out on a national rotation.”

As crews continue to gain containment, rough terrain and dry conditions continue to hinder efforts in certain areas. Glover said the team’s No. 1 priority is the northwest area of the fire, closer to Glenwood Springs.

“I like our chances in this area,” Glover said, adding that the intensity of the fire depends on the weather in the coming days.

Chris Moore, the Alaska Team’s fire behavioral analyst, said fuel, weather and topography are the three factors to keeping fires burning. Thursday was the hottest day of the week, he said, adding that starting Friday there’s an increased chance of thunderstorms and rain. Early next week, two fronts will be moving in Sunday and Monday, with temperatures dropping off and winds increasing.

Moore added that the interior of the fire will be putting up smoke “for the rest of summer.” With winter on the horizon and colder temperatures, crews will monitor higher elevations where vegetation may freeze, usually killing it and making it more flammable for a fire coming through. Teams are working on setting up meteorology stations to monitor conditions.

With the chance of rain, however, comes the increased risk of rockfalls and road closures through the Interstate 70 corridor.

“We know when we receive precipitation we’re going to have to close the road at some point,” said the Colorado Department of Transportation senior supervisor during Thursday’s meeting.

Possible closure points would continue to be at the Main Glenwood Interchange and the Dotsero Interchange. He added that his crews also monitor the weather and are prepared to shut down I-70 through the corridor for safety reasons. CDOT teams have pinpointed possible slide points and have also performed mitigation throughout the summer.

The National Forest Foundation has set up a fund to support the restoration and future of the area. Visit the Grizzly Creek Fire Facebook page for more information and to tune in to the next community meeting.

“We’re not out of the woods by any stretch of the imagination,” said Lisa Stoeffler, White River National Forest deputy forest supervisor. As long as the fire requires fighting, crews will be here, she added. “We will not leave this fire until we can call it safe.”

The cause of the Grizzly Creek Fire is still under investigation, having started Aug. 10 off of I-70.

In response to a question, Glover said he encourages people to continue to call in any fire activity they might see. While they might not address it immediately, “It’s always good to err on the side of caution,” he said.

Efforts of containment continue on the northwest area of the fire, as well as south and eastern fronts.

“It’s quite a setting for us,” Kurth said, “and we appreciate the invitation down here.”

The Grizzly Creek public information line is 970-930-1850.

Vail Daily Assistant Editor Ross Leonhart can be reached at 970-748-2984 and Follow him on Instagram at colorado_livin_on_the_hill.