Snow Is Good News For Crews Fighting East Troublesome And Cameron Peak Fires. But It Could Be Bad News For Pipes In Evacuated Homes.

October 25, 2020
Snow hangs on trees in the Cameron Peak fire area.Snow hangs on trees in the Cameron Peak fire area.Courtesy of Incident Information System
Snow hangs on trees in the Cameron Peak fire area.

A red flag warning on Saturday to a winter storm watch on Sunday, the conditions for the fires burning in Colorado just got a little less hospitable -- but could create problems for evacuees who rushed out of their homes, not thinking they would need to winterize them first. 

As forecast, a cold front moved into northern Colorado, and temperatures around the Cameron Peak and East Troublesome fires dropped Saturday night and are expected to keep diving into the single digits, at least until Tuesday. 

Noel Livingston, the incident commander of the East Troublesome fire in Grand County, said Sunday morning that the increased humidity from the snow is good news for the firefighting crews. 

“That snow is going to obviously dampen any potential fire spread. We'll take advantage of the weather while we can,” he said. “I anticipate a good productive day.”

The National Weather Service in Boulder said this storm could dump about a foot of snow in Grand and Larimer counties where two major fires are burning.

Incident meteorologist Dan Byrd with the Cameron Peak fire said Sunday the temperatures could dip below zero. 

“Temperatures overnight are going to be very cold across the entire fire. We'll see most of the fire will see conditions below zero tonight, probably around 5- to 7- below zero, and then single digit temperatures of the lower elevation,” Byrd said. 

While forecast is welcome for crews fighting the fires, it gives evacuees something else to worry about. 

Rich Johnson and his grandson Anthony left their home in Estes Park on Friday and ended up in Blackhawk on Saturday. Rich Johnson said all the electricity was shut off to the city, so he said the pipes in his house likely will freeze. 

“Either way, we’re coming home to a disaster,” Rich Johnson said. “Whether the house gets burnt or the pipes are broken. Can’t win.”

In Grand County, Sheriff Brett Schroetlin is trying to help people winterize their evacuated homes to avoid damage from plumbing issues. 

With homeowners’ permission, teams of deputies, plumbers and contractors are going into homes to try and mitigate plumbing and water damage. Schroetlin said the program is available only as fire conditions, weather, and access will allow.

“My staff and I met with about 60 to 80 plumbing and contracting professionals from all across the county,” Schroetlin said. “All these people are donating their time and effort.”

He said since implementing the program around midnight Sunday, about 1,000 people have signed up for the service.

The wintry conditions can also complicate the firefighting efforts.

In Larimer County around the Cameron Peak fire, roads were closed because of car accidents and poor road conditions. 

Livingston, with the East Troublesome fire, said crews will be watching for that as the snow starts to pile up.

“If it does get to the point that roads become hazardous for travel, particularly for these heavy engines, then we may adapt our operation today,” he said. “But we're going to be out and about and insure that everything remains as is.”

The respite in critical fire weather conditions might not last long enough to put out the fires. Fire officials said downed logs and other large fuels under the forest canopy will still smolder. And temperatures are expected to gradually warm back up beginning Tuesday.

“2020 has been a unique fire season … so we need to plan for the unprecedented," Schroetlin said Sunday.