Colorado wildfire keeps I-70 closed for 5th straight day

EAGLE, Colo. (AP) — Gov. Jared Polis said Friday a portion of Interstate 70 in western Colorado could be closed for another two to three days as firefighters battle a wildfire that has forced evacuations, scorched about 23 square miles (59 square kilometers) and threatened one of the state's most popular tourist destinations.

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The Grizzly Creek Fire east of Glenwood Springs has burned the area near Hanging Lake. Fire officials said Friday it's not yet clear if the lake was affected, and they are waiting for the smoke to clear to assess it from the air.

Multiple waterfalls flow into the emerald-colored lake, which was designated a National Natural Landmark by the secretary of the interior in 2011, according to Glenwood Springs' tourism website.

The fire has shut down a 57-mile (92-kilometer) portion of Interstate 70 for five days.

“Literally, the flames are right on the edge of the highway,” Polis said during a news conference at the Eagle County Fairgrounds after meeting with the fire’s incident commander, The Vail Daily reported.

The closure of I-70, the state's main east-west artery, has forced drivers headed across Colorado to take long detours. Colorado Highway 82 over Independence Pass near Aspen was closed Wednesday after heavy traffic on the sometimes narrow mountain road, which was not a recommended detour, created unsafe conditions. Multiple vehicles towing trailers became stuck on the pass, which reopened Friday evening.

“It’s kind of like a game of whack-a-mole,” said Amber Barrett, a spokeswoman for the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office. “You close one road, and another one becomes a problem."

The blaze is the top priority wildfire in the country because of the I-70 shutdown, which has strained local and regional supply chains.

Some homes east of Glenwood Springs have been evacuated, and residents in other areas have been told to be prepared to leave if the fire intensifies.

Polis said the fire is burning mostly on U.S. Forest Service land, but it has also scorched several hundred acres of federal public land managed by the Bureau of Land Management.

Homes have also been evacuated by a wildfire that was started by lightning on July 31 north of Grand Junction. The Pine Gulch Fire had grown to nearly 115 square miles (298 square kilometers) and was 7 percent contained as of Friday.