Governor Polis Provides Update on State Response to Wildfires, COVID-19

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

DENVER - Gov. Polis today provided an update on the wildfires burning in Western Colorado as well as the state’s response to COVID-19. The Governor was joined by Stan Hilkey, executive director of the Department of Public Safety; Dan Gibbs, executive director of the Department of Natural Resources and certified wildland firefighter who has been on the ground fighting the Grizzly Creek Fire; and Dr. Alexis W. Burakoff, MD, MPH, Medical Epidemiologist at the Department of Public Health and Environment. 

“I’m grateful to the more than 2,000 men and women who are on the ground and in the air fighting these fires, and working to protect our communities and Colorado’s beautiful natural resources,” said Governor Jared Polis. “Colorado is no stranger to wildfires like this and we have proactively prepared for this season. While these fires are making it more difficult for people to enjoy our great outdoors, Coloradans must continue taking the necessary precautions to protect themselves and others, such as wearing masks and following social distancing requirements. Much like with COVID-19, we all have a role to play in ensuring we are taking steps to prevent fires moving forward.”

The Governor announced he will take executive action to reduce the fire risk across the State. The order will be released tomorrow and go into effect Thursday morning. There are currently four large wildfires burning: the Grizzly Creek Fire in Glenwood Canyon, the Pine Gulch Fire near Grand Junction, the Williams Fork Fire in Grand County, and the Cameron Peak Fire near Redfeather Lakes.

Four days ago, Governor Polis visited Incident Command Centers for the Pine Gulch and Grizzly Creek Fires to visit with emergency responders and Coloradans working to fight these firesand support the affected communities. As of yesterday, the Grizzly Creek Fire was the number one fire priority in the nation and had grown to more than 25,000 acres. As of Monday evening, the Pine Gulch Fire is over 87,000 acres and 7 percent contained, making it one of the top four largest wildfires in state history. The Cameron Peak Fire is burning on mostly federal land and as of this morning, the fire has burned 14,018 acres. The Williams Fork Fire started on Saturday and is burning 15 miles southwest of Fraser on mostly federal land. As of Monday, the fire had burned 6,627 acres with 0% containment.

The wildfires continue to place a strain on the environment and are significantly impacting air quality during a pandemic that affects the respiratory system. The fires are making it more difficult for Coloradans to be outside, and therefore more difficult for people to enjoy Colorado’s incredible outdoor spaces which have been key over the last few months. 

As this is Colorado’s core fire season, the wildland-urban interface communities are particularly threatened by wildfires; current conditions include a lack of moisture, distressed vegetation, extreme fire weather (Red Flag warnings), overgrown and beetle-killed forests, these conditions need only an ignition source in order for a disaster to occur. 

Colorado is no stranger to the dangers of wildfires and Colorado’s Department of Public Safety proactively prepared for this year’s season. The Governor reminded Coloradans to use caution while the state is in an extreme drought. Also to try outdoor activities that easily allow for safe social distancing like hiking, biking, or bird watching.