Kruger Rock fire ignites near Estes Park, forcing evacuations

Courtesy of Eric Harrington
A fire burns and plumes of smoke rise near Estes Park on November 16, 2021. The fire has grown to over 75 acres and has forced evacuation orders.

Updated: 5:30 p.m.

About 150 firefighters are working on the ground and using aircraft to contain the Kruger Rock fire, which started this morning near Estes Park and has grown amid warm, dry weather and gusty winds. The fire is about 133 acres and has forced evacuations of residents near U.S. Highway 36.

Local fire officials have ordered residents to evacuate areas near Pole Hill Road, Panorama Peak, Big Elk Meadows, Pinewood Springs and the Little Valley and Hermit Park neighborhoods. Other nearby residents are being advised to prepare for evacuation if the fire continues to spread. An overnight evacuation center for displaced people has been set up at YMCA of the Rockies, 2515 Tunnel Rd. in Estes Park.

Pete Vanderveen said he smelled smoke early Tuesday morning but assumed it was from a fire burning inside his home. A neighbor knocked on his door. When Vanderveen stepped outside, he could see flames. Police came by shortly later, and Vanderveen and his wife evacuated. The couple scrambled to collect photos and other irreplaceable items from the home before leaving.

"It's nerve-wracking," said Bonnie Vanderveen. "You want to take some things… photos and things that you can't replace and so we were running around the house doing that."

The Vanderveens and other evacuees are staying the night at the YMCA.

Justin Alexander, an outreach coordinator at Ravencrest Chalet, could see smoke on the horizon as he and more than 100 students and staffers evacuated the bible college in Estes Park. They packed into a school bus and cars and fled for a local church before relocating to the YMCA. Alexander said the team at the YMCA quickly helped feed and find accommodations for the college group.

"They're willing to take us as long as we have need, so we're just seeing how we can find a classroom that can fit us and how we can continue to run our activities," Alexander said. "We're very grateful to the YMCA for this blessing."

The fire was threatening structures but no injuries or damage was reported Tuesday afternoon, according to Larimer County officials. U.S. 36 between Lyons and Estes Park has been closed and the U.S. Forest Service has closed parts of the Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forest near the highway. Investigators told CBS4 sparking power lines may have ignited the fire, but Larimer County officials have not returned CPR News request for comment.

Courtesy of Eric Harrington
A herd of elk run away as fire burns and plumes of smoke rise near Estes Park on November 16, 2021. The fire has grown to over 75 acres and has forced evacuation orders.

Gusty winds, low humidity and warm temperatures have elevated the risk of dangerous wildfires. The National Weather Service has issued critical fire weather warnings for much of the Front Range and parts of southwestern Colorado.

Two of Colorado’s largest wildfires ever recorded threatened Estes Park last year, prompting thousands to evacuate the city. 

See video from the fire below:

This is a developing story and will be updated.