Things heated up for rafters on Colorado’s Shoshone Canyon section of the Colorado River when a fire broke out near Grizzly Creek, forcing commercial guides to dodge the flames.
“We had six boats on the water,” says Erik Larsson of Glenwood Springs-based outfitter Whitewater Rafting. “We dropped them off at the top and turned around, and the fire was just the size of a car at first. But it escalated very quickly. The next bus had to drive through a wall of flames. Then there was this whole mushroom cloud of smoke.”
The rafters on the water, meanwhile, had their own issues to deal with.
“We were having a normal run, and my friend John was in front, but then as we got through a rapid called Tombstone the water just dropped about 500 cfs, as they shut off the flow at the Hanging Lake Dam,” says guide Griffin Blaber.
When they stopped, the noticed the water was a different color. Then they saw the 80-foot flames downstream. “At first we weren’t that worried,” he says. “But then it started blowing upstream at us. It was burning like crazy.”
The guides ended up getting their boats and clients through safely, to their takeout in Glenwood Springs below, before the Colorado Dept. of Transportation closed the river and Interstate 70. The Grizzly Creek Fire allegedly started below the Grizzly Creek put-in/takeout in the Maintenance Shack section of the Class II No Name run.
Larsson says that luckily there wasn’t much fuel in the section where the rafters were. But the flames did jump the river. His and other outfitters’ operations are expected to be shut down for days.
“Definitely the craziest day I’ve had on the river,” guide John Brockmeier told CBS4. “I was going through the river and then, all of a sudden, the color of the river just changed. The smoke over the sun caused everything to go to kind of a yellow-reddish hue over the river. That was kind of the first indication that things were crazy.”
Whitewater Rafting, LLC has been operating on the Colorado River in Glenwood Springs, CO continuously since 1974. In 2012, the company was purchased by Erik and Phoebe Larsson from its founder Ken Larson and family.