How Is Snow Impacting Colorado’s Wildfires?

On October 22nd, Estes Park was evacuated as two of Colorado’s recording-breaking wildfires were about to merge. As homes burned and hundreds of thousands of acres of Northern Colorado’s mountain forests had been burned to ash the situation was dire.

Smoke from the Cameron Peak fire seen from Horsetooth Reservoir Friday, August 14 at 6:22pm
Photo by Steven Bonifazi

Thousands of people were evacuated from their homes in the mountains. And with smoke-filled skies and ash falling more than a hundred miles from the wildfires, the feeling around Northern Colorado was being referred to as “doomsday.” On some days the smoke made it unsafe to take a walk outside.

Then came the snow.

Over a day or two, about 12 inches of snow fell in Fort Collins. More fell in the mountains and the temperature plummeted to the single digits. In the days after, the sun came out, the air cleared and it seemed the danger of the fires had passed.

But experienced campers know that once you put snow on top of a fire that doesn’t extinguish it. It just covers it while the fire continues to smolder beneath.

Substantial though it may seem, 12″ of snow most likely means only around 1″ of water.

And snowy conditions prevent firefighters from accessing fire lines and getting to the places they need to be.

“As we get in there, we are going to focus on the potential for spread before that snow event. We have crews out there hiking and looking at the area overhead.” said Kyle Canon, Operations Pacific Northwest Team 2.

So, does that mean we are “out of the woods” when it comes to the fire?

“Absolutely not,” there’s a lot of fuel still in there. We still have to pay attention,” said Captain Joe Shellhammer, Larimer County Sheriff’s Office.

“I took a hike yesterday; it’s hard getting in there. There’s still fire in there. Dead trees have fallen down and it’s burning underneath. The snow hasn’t gotten on it,” Joe said.

Joe said Larimer County has lifted evacuations in many areas and lightened them in others but the fire is still very unpredictable. The Sheriff’s office is helping people get their stuff and winterize their homes whenever possible.

For the latest information on evacuations, LETA provides daily updates by text and a virtual map showing evacuation areas along with a tracing of where the fires have burned. Text TFIRE to 888777 for updates on the Troublesome Fire and LCEVAC to 888777 for evacuation information as it is released.