As Colorado’s Cameron Peak Fire Grows, No Evacuations Are Expected For Fort Collins

Courtesy Alex Mandrila
Onlookers watch the Cameron Peak fire from Pole Hill Road as it burns north of Estes Park on Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2020.

Updated: 4:59 p.m.

One day after the Cameron Peak fire became the largest ever on record in Colorado, crews are focused on limiting its growth to the east and protecting structures in Larimer County.

The blaze is not currently threatening Fort Collins, according to Larimer County spokesman Jered Kramer.

"I don't want to get predictive of fire behavior, but the terrain difference and fuel difference between the mountains and the urban corridor is very distinct," said Kramer.

"So citizens may be alarmed. But at this point, I haven't heard any discussion of any consideration of issuing evacuation orders to the urban corridor."

Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
Red Cross volunteers work to prepare lunches for evacuees of the Cameron Peak fire at the Residence Inn hotel in Fort Collins on Thursday, Oct. 15, 2020.

Some residents have already been evacuated, however. Sheila Sellers runs a bed and breakfast in Glen Haven. She said that evacuations during flooding in 2013 hurt her business badly. She says this time around, she's trying to stay optimistic, even as many residents are being left in the dark about when they are going to be let back home.

"You know nobody really knows how long we're going to be here — hopefully not that long," Sellers said. "And they're saying the wind is supposed to come up again on Friday and Saturday, so you know, we've been through a lot."

In the meantime, Sellers is staying in a hotel that the Red Cross has helped set her up with.

Patty Walsh is the general manager of Residence Inn and Courtyard Hotels in Fort Collins. She says there are no more rooms at her hotels for the whole weekend. Most people staying in the hotels are connected to the fires — either evacuees or firefighters. During earlier evacuations due to the Cameron Peak fire, Walsh said she got close to many patrons.

"For a lot of them, they became our neighbors," Walsh said. "Everyone's in the same situation, no one knows what's going on .... Not because no one is telling them, but because no one knows."

Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
A firefighting helicopter and smoke above Horsetooth Reservoir because of the Cameron Peak fire to the west on Thursday, Oct. 15, 2020.

The blaze has burned 164,140 acres since it started in mid-August and is now 56 percent contained. More than 1,000 people are currently working to fight it.

The fire grew by nearly 30,000 acres on Wednesday, largely due to winds that got up to 70 mph. The flames spread east down in areas along Buckhorn Road to County Road 27.

The rapid expansion prompted more evacuations and pre-evacuation orders. Mandatory evacuation orders are in place between the Poudre and Big Thompson canyons.

The land's topography along with the dry, warm weather and high winds made for ideal conditions for growth Wednesday, according to fire officials. Thursday's forecast calls for more warm and dry conditions with wind gusts up to 40 mph, which could cause the fire to grow even more.

Firefighters expect more fire engines from across the state to arrive. That will help them protect buildings and utility structures, said Michelle Kelly, a spokeswoman with the incident team. She added that crews also plan to use aircraft Thursday with winds expected to be less intense.

Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
Sheila Sellars talks about being forced to evacuate the bed and breakfast she operates in Glenhaven near Estes Park because of the Cameron Peak fire, at the Residence Inn hotel in Fort Collins on Thursday, Oct. 15, 2020.

The Cameron Peak fire is now officially the biggest in state history and has far eclipsed the previous record holder, the Pine Gulch fire. That blaze, which started earlier this summer, burned more than 139,000 acres north of Grand Junction.

Fire officials are also monitoring the well-being of firefighters who may be suffering mental fatigue from a long and hard-fought wildfire season. Public Information Officer Michelle Kelly said fire officials are checking in with their crews to make sure they are have enough time away from the front lines.

"We pay attention as supervisors, as the season has extended, to mental status and how are people feeling and are there things we can do to make sure they are in the right frame of mind or to help them stay there," Kelly said. "Do they need a little bit longer time off before they re-up to go back out?"

CPR Reporter Dan Boyce contributed reporting to this story.