Kruger Rock fire near Estes Park fully contained after being sparked by power line

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 November 22, 2021 @ 8 a.m.

Larimer County firefighters announced Sunday morning that the Kruger Rock fire was 100 percent contained. The fire grew to 147 acres after igniting last week.

Officials say they don't anticipate further growth, but they will continue to monitor the fire until it is extinguished. Dry weather is forecast for the next couple of days, raising the risks for new fires.

Estes Park Power and Communications, the municipally-owned electricity provider for Estes Park, has confirmed that one of its power lines sparked the Kruger Rock fire burning outside the town.

The fire was first reported Tuesday morning. It grew quickly amid dry, windy conditions, forcing the evacuations of residents in neighborhoods south of Estes Park. The Larimer County Sheriff’s Office reported more than 150 firefighters are coordinating with aircraft to contain the blaze, which had grown to 140 acres by Wednesday.

No injuries have been reported from the fire, but the firefighting effort has resulted in one death. A single-engine air tanker crashed Tuesday night, killing the pilot. Federal investigators are now assisting local efforts to determine the cause. 

In an emailed statement, Kate Rusch, a public information officer with Estes Park, said a preliminary investigation by the Larimer County Sheriff’s Office found the fire was likely sparked after a tree fell onto an electric distribution line amid high winds. 

Rusch confirmed the town owns the power line.

“Safety is our top priority and we make significant investments in fire mitigation each year including tree-trimming and equipment upgrades,” Rusch said. “We will gather additional information on this situation to understand what more we can do to possibly avoid another incident. We will continue to work diligently on these efforts in service to our community and our neighbors.” 

Rusch said the city trimmed vegetation around the distribution line a month ago. The city spent more than $900,000 on fire mitigation projects in 2020 and is on track to spend a similar amount this year. 

A fire likely sparked by the area’s electrical grid also appears to have endangered it. 

Estes Park draws its power from the Platte River Power Authority, a wholesale electricity provider also serving Fort Collins, Loveland and Longmont. The Western Area Power Administration, an arm of the Department of Energy, owns a separate pair of transmission lines linking Estes Park to the system. 

Investigators do not think the WAPA transmission lines played any role in the Kruger Rock Fire, but the blaze grew to within a mile of the system. Lisa Meiman, a WAPA spokesperson, said if firefighters hadn’t halted its growth, it might have been necessary to cut off power to the area to protect public safety. 

Power companies have grown more concerned about wildfire risk since the 2018 Camp Fire in northern California. A faulty transmission line owned by Pacific Gas and Electric Company ignited the fire, which killed 85 people and became the deadliest and costliest fire in California history. The company later filed for bankruptcy citing $30 billion in potential wildfire liabilities. 

Paolo Zialcita contributed to this report.

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