CHEYENNE, Wyo. – More strong wind Friday made the biggest wildfire in Colorado history even worse, keeping firefighting aircraft on the ground and forcing evacuations along a highway leading to Rocky Mountain National Park.
People along U.S. Highway 34 in the scenic Big Thompson Canyon – an area ravaged by flooding that washed the road out in 2013 – were in imminent danger and should get out immediately, Larimer County authorities said.
The growing fire has also forced firefighters north and east of Rocky Mountain National Park to reposition for safety.
Highway 34 was closed to nonemergency traffic, cutting off a major route to Estes Park, population 6,400, as well as the national park.
The 260-square-mile fire set Colorado’s size record after strong winds Tuesday night and Wednesday morning caused it to grow by more than 40 square miles.
The fire sent thick smoke into Fort Collins and prompted evacuations all the way to Horsetooth Reservoir on the city’s western edge. Partly because of the reservoir, the city of 168,000 wasn’t considered at risk, though schools for a time kept children indoors amid alerts for poor air quality.
The fire spread little during calm, cooler weather Thursday.
It started in mid-August in the high country 30 miles west of Fort Collins and has persisted despite getting over 1 foot of snow on Labor Day. It was over 50% contained before this week’s flare-ups.
Twenty-five miles to the north of the Cameron Peak Fire, firefighters were also watching a windy forecast at the Mullen Fire on the Colorado-Wyoming line. The fire has grown little this week despite the recent wind.