Wildland Fire

Flames and smoke on a mountain side
Big Meadows Fire 2013

NPS/Ross Wilmore

 

Fire has been an essential and natural part of the Rocky Mountain ecosystem for thousands of years. The presence of fire within the park is one of the most significant factors contributing to the diversity and perpetuation of plants and animals, and overall health of this mountain ecosystem.

Current Fire Information

 
Green plants grow beneath burned trees

Fire Ecology

Nearly 60 percent of the park is forested. The vitality of these green areas depends on fire.

 
Winter pile burning

Fire Management

Managing fire in natural ecosystems prepares us for the uncertainty inevitable in a world shaped by human activity.

Bear Lake area after the 1900 fire

Fire History

Fire has had a Rocky history. The perception of fire and methods used for handling it have evolved over time.

 
Silhouette of a firefighter by a fire

Alpine Hotshots

Rocky is home to a highly skilled and mobile firefighting crew that fights fires across the country.

 
Lightning strike on Lumpy Ridge, Forest canyon floor with river
Top: Lightning is the primary cause of wildland fires in Rocky.
Bottom: Areas like Forest Canyon haven't burned for hundreds of years, and have an unnatural fuel buildup of dead vegetation.

NPS/John Marino

Fire Overview

Lightning has always been the primary cause of wildland fires. On average, Rocky Mountain National Park experiences three to seven lightning caused fires per year. Other factors - including past logging practices, grazing levels and climatic conditions - have also contributed to changes in natural fire regimes.

Fire naturally thins the forest, recycles nutrients into the soil, releases seeds for new plant growth, and creates meadows. All of these are critical to forest health and natural cycles of growth and decomposition.

Despite the evidence that fire is a necessary element, people have feared and suppressed it whenever possible over the past century. As a result of this fire exclusion, there has been an unnatural fuel buildup of live, dead and diseased trees, pine needles, shrubs and grasses in some areas of the park. This accumulation of fuel now presents extreme hazards to the health of forests, soil, watersheds and wildlife. It is also a primary concern to people living in these areas, as well as to the taxpayer that has to pay for the suppression costs of major wildfires.


Fire Management

The overall program goal is to strengthen the concept of total fire management by working closely with neighboring landowners to reduce the risks of wildfire in the following ways:

  • Increase the safe and effective use of prescribed fire
  • Maintain and utilize strong fire suppression capabilities
  • Support the mobilization of resources to wildland fires
Firefighter and public safety are the highest priority in all fire management activities. Fire management is essential to protecting life and property, and is vital to the mission of the National Park Service at Rocky Mountain National Park.

For more information go to the Fire Management webpage.


 
Firefighters igniting a prescribed burn in a meadow
Prescribed fires are carefully planned to reduce the risks of heavy fuel buildup.

NPS

Prescribed Fire

Prescribed fire is the deliberate and carefully planned periodic burning of a selected site to reduce the risks of unnaturally heavy fuel buildup, the potential for devastating wildfires and the loss of life and property. In order to help restore natural processes, land managers, including the National Park Service, use prescribed fire as an important management tool.

The National Park Service is also proactive in reducing hazardous fuel loads through manual removal of fuel within the park's boundaries, especially in areas adjacent to private land and near park structures. Wildland fire use is the term used to describe naturally ignited fires that are allowed to burn in certain areas under carefully monitored conditions to benefit park resources.
 
Rocky Mountain National Park Fire Management Logo

Contact the Park

Mailing Address:

1000 US Hwy 36
Estes Park, CO 80517

Phone:

(970) 586-1206
General park questions: (970) 586-1206. Recorded Trail Ridge Road status: (970)586-1222.

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