Fire Stories

Fire stories from the national parks highlight events, incidents, and the like, associated with fire and fuels management, as well as fire education, technology, partnerships, and more. Stories highlight work related to Department of the Interior initiatives as well as local and regional initiatives.

Local Relationships Limit Woodland Heights Fire Damage

Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado
Cohesive Strategy—Response to Wildfire*

Rocky Mountain National Park has an excellent relationship with the local Estes Park Fire Department. It was this relationship that allowed for a rapid response, and working together limited the damage during the Woodland Heights Fire.

The 27-acre Woodland Heights Fire started Saturday, June 23, 2012. The Larimer County Sheriff’s Office determined the fire was likely caused by an electrical service line on private property rubbing against a pine tree during turbulent winds. The fire burned in the Estes Park city limits near the Beaver Meadows Entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park. Burning conditions were extreme, with the highest Energy Release Components (ERCs) on record. Relative humidity was in the single digits and wind threatened to push the fire into the middle of town where thousands of tourists were enjoying a hot summer day.

It was reported as a structure fire within 50 yards of the park boundary at 11:55 a.m. Within 10 minutes, National Park Service (NPS) employees were on scene and tied in with the local volunteer fire departments (VFDs) in charge. The NPS fire management officer, NPS battalion chief, a Whiskeytown National Recreation Area engine (in the park on severity), as well as the Rocky Mountain National Park fuels and forestry crew were also on scene.

Due to the proximity to the park, burning conditions, and mutual aid agreements, NPS personnel took the lead and ordered a Type 3, Type 2 and two Type 1 helicopters, as well as a heavy airtanker. The air tanker did not end up dropping due to the number of people in the area.

The NPS battalion chief took charge of the aviation operation. NPS personnel were near the head of the fire and directed drops from the helitankers. One exact drop in particular is credited for stopping a run up a saddle that had a high potential to continue into the heart of downtown Estes Park. NPS employees also saved numerous homes by building direct line and extinguishing hotspots with the engine.

The fire destroyed 22 homes and two outbuildings, however the close working relationships with local partners prevented additional damage. The Estes Park fire chief acknowledged the vital role NPS fire personnel played in saving numerous homes, millions of dollars in damages, and untold potential human costs.

Contact: Mike Lewelling, Fire Management Officer

Email: mike_lewelling@nps.gov

Phone: (970) 586-1287 

*This story supports the Department of the Interior initiatives.