The few residents and emergency responders who remained in Estes Park on Friday morning following evacuations woke to a natural-looking cloud cover that replaced the apocalyptic ashy haze that hung over the community the day before. 

The East Troublesome fire, which has charred more than 188,079 acres and jumped the Continental Divide, prompted the mandatory evacuation of Estes Park and surrounding communities Thursday, leading to traffic jams that stretched for miles on U.S. 34 and U.S.36. Many drivers had to use their lights because the ash and clouds darkened the sky in the middle of the day. 

The mass exodus that shuttered nearly all businesses left Estes Park in an eerie silence, so that a single car driving through residential neighborhoods could be heard for many blocks Thursday night. On door knobs, pink evacuation tags fluttered in the wind. 

A trace of snow coated cars Friday morning and intermingled with the burnt pine needles that gathered in gutters and on front porches. The  winter weather also coated evergreens on the mountains above town with frost.

Temperatures in town lingered below freezing mid-morning Friday, reaching only 27 degrees around 10:30 a.m. Cold temperatures can help increase the relative humidity, which helps to decrease fire activity.  The higher humidity helped slow the fire Thursday near the Fern Lake fire scar in Rocky Mountain National Park, according to Inciweb, an official fire information site. 

Midmorning Friday, a very few residents cruised vacant parking lots in front of strip malls and the Safeway, which had all closed. 

Law enforcement officers from agencies outside Estes Park and Larimer County helped to patrol neighborhoods and highways.

Shortly before noon, a steady stream of traffic was headed west along U.S. 34 to Estes Park from Loveland. But a roadblock was set up to question all westbound drivers at The Dam Store, outside of Loveland. 

Contact the writer at mary.shinn@gazette.com or (719) 429-9264.

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