Glenwood Springs Businesses Hunker Down As Grizzly Creek Fire Grows Rapidly

August 13, 2020
GRIZZLY CREEK FIRE GLENWOOD SPRINGS 200812GRIZZLY CREEK FIRE GLENWOOD SPRINGS 200812Laurel Smith/For CPR News
A plane visible from Glenwood Springs drops flame retardant on the Grizzly Creek Fire on Wednesday evening, Aug. 12, 2020.

The Grizzly Creek Fire that began Monday in Glenwood Canyon continues to rage on. By Wednesday afternoon, the fire has grown to more than 4,600 acres and is zero percent contained. 

Fire managers shared updates on the “serious situation” through a Facebook Live stream on Wednesday evening. The response team warned that they are a “long ways away” from putting out the flames.

“This fire is going to burn actively for a while,” said Marty Adell, incident commander. “Until we get sizable or measurable rain, precip and or snow, we are going to have a fire threat to burden.”

Adell and his federal incident team will take over command of the fire as a Type 1 response, reserved for more complex fire incidents.

Jared Hohn, incident commander for the Type 2 team, said that national fire resources are starting to “grow very thin” as fire activity increases around the country. He noted that the Grizzly Creek Fire is “the No. 1 fire in the nation for allocation resources,” which include air tankers and hot shot crews. 

Garfield County Sheriff Lou Vallario said one of the biggest public safety concerns at the moment is the traffic caused by shutting down Interstate 70 between Glenwood Springs and Gypsum. 

GRIZZLY CREEK FIRE GLENWOOD SPRINGS 200812Laurel Smith/For CPR News
Smoke from the Grizzly Creek Fire could be seen well into Wednesday evening, Aug. 12, 2020 above Glenwood Hot Springs pool and the closed and deserted Interstate 70.

The fire is burning on both sides of the highway, about 3 miles east of downtown Glenwood Springs. He said drivers are using alternative routes they shouldn’t, like Independence Pass which doesn’t allow for big trucks and trailers. 

The Colorado Department of Transportation closed the pass indefinitely due to safety concerns. In an email statement, CDOT said vehicles became stuck on the narrow highway and crews are working to remove them. CDOT spokeswoman Elise Thatcher recommends people who must travel to use US 50 and US 285, south of I-70. 

The fire incident team did not have an answer as to when I-70 could reopen.

Garfield County has evacuated residents from No Name, High Aspen Ranch along Colorado State Highway 115, Coulter Creek and Cottonwood Pass. 

More than 200 firefighters and multiple air tankers and helicopters are fighting the blaze, with a “significant amount of more resources ordered,” Hohn said.

GRIZZLY CREEK FIRE GLENWOOD SPRINGS 200812Laurel Smith/For CPR News
The Glenwood Hot Springs Pool was quiet on Wednesday, Aug. 12, 2020, with many visitors unable to get there due to road closures brought on by the Grizzly Creek Fire

The firefighting efforts can’t come soon enough for many in Glenwood Springs.

Kristine Del Rio owns Rio Grande Bed and Breakfast in Glenwood Springs. Before the fire started on Monday, her lodge was at full capacity even with social distancing measures in place because of the pandemic. It was good news for her after the lost income during the shutdowns. But now visitors can’t get there. 

“We’ve had almost 100 percent cancellation for our nightly rentals,” she said. “It’s kind of adding bad to worse after coronavirus. If that didn’t take us out, this might.” 

Del Rio described the air quality Wednesday morning as "extremely difficult." In the downtown area, she said she could barely see beyond 30 feet because of the fire smoke.

“It smelled like you were at a campfire,” she said. “I think most people are walking around with a pounding headache right now because the smoke was pretty awful this morning.” 

Del Rio still has some business coming in since she owns another lodge in West Glenwood and those cabins are at about half-capacity. She’s also opening a wedding event facility in New Castle. Times are difficult, she said, but she still has some income. 

Kelly Jo Duncetch, a tattoo artist at Spyder Rose Tattoo in downtown Glenwood Springs, had to cancel all of her clients for the day. Like Del Rio, she described the air being smoky in the morning on Wednesday but things started to clear in the afternoon.

GRIZZLY CREEK FIRE GLENWOOD SPRINGS 200812Laurel Smith/For CPR News
Tattoo Artist Kelly Jo Duncetch had to evacuate her home just two years ago due to the Lake Christine Fire in nearby Basalt. She now lives in an apartment above the Spyder Rose Tattoo shop where she works and is preparing for the possibility of having to evacuate again. “It’s scary to think about having to pack up at a moment’s notice but because it is something that happened just a few years ago, I feel less worried,” she said on Wednesday, Aug. 12, 2020.

It’s been a bit slow at work since Monday. 

“I was tattooing a client and the power went out,” she said. “I ended up having to reschedule them midway through their tattoo. We came outside and there was so much smoke coming over the hill.” 

Since then, it’s been a steady stream of cancellations or rescheduled appointments. Jo said she’s worried about her finances if the cancellations continue, but she’s optimistic. 

“Judging by the way things have gone in the past, they’ll probably get it under control hopefully soon,” she said. “We haven’t had one this close in awhile, so it’s all new to us.” 

Jo took a financial hit during the pandemic when she couldn’t work because of the shutdowns but said business has been booming since reopening — until Monday. She said her industry is a bit more seasonal so she is used to slower seasons. 

She’s taking it in stride though. She and the other three tattoo artists didn’t have much else to do, so instead, they all decided to repaint the parlor. 

“We just decided to since we’re all here anyways, and there was nothing to do,” Jo said. 

Danny Enos is a store clerk at Red Mountain Wine & Spirits. He said business last Wednesday was amazing because there was another different fire in South Canyon, west of Glenwood, that led to road closures. That I-70 closure only lasted a few hours in the evening.

GRIZZLY CREEK FIRE GLENWOOD SPRINGS 200812Laurel Smith/For CPR News
DaNeysha Christopher takes a photograph of the smoke billowing above Glenwood Springs win Wednesday, Aug. 12, 2020 from the Grizzly Creek Fire. Christopher, who is visiting from Kentucky, arrived at Denver International Airport Wednesday morning. She and a friend drove over Independence Pass just before it closed due to semi trailers using it to bypass I-70 but frequently getting stuck on the narrow mountain pass.

“It was probably the busiest day since the holidays,” he said. “Everyone tried to find hotel rooms and spend the night because no one knew what was happening.”   

Things are slower now because people can’t get in. The last time, people had trouble leaving. Still, the store has been struggling a bit because getting inventory on time has been difficult because of the pandemic. On Wednesday, the inventory truck did come but four hours late. 

Overall though, Enos said he’s not all that worried because of the success of last week. 

“Things are going to change and have been changing weekly with COVID-19 and everything happening in the world,” he said. “But I think we’ll get through.”