|High Park Fire|
June 10th satellite image by NASA
|Location||Roosevelt National Forest, Larimer County, Colorado|
|Date(s)||June 9, 2012- June 30, 2012|
|Burned area||87,284 acres (353 km2)|
The High Park fire was a wildfire in the mountains west of Fort Collins in Larimer County, Colorado, United States. It was caused by a lightning strike and was first detected on the morning of June 9, 2012. It was declared 100 percent contained on June 30, 2012, and all associated evacuation orders were lifted.
The High Park fire burned over 87,284 acres (136.381 sq mi; 353.23 km2), becoming the second-largest fire in recorded Colorado history by area burned. It destroyed at least 259 homes, compared to the Black Forest Fire with a number of 511 homes, surpassing the number consumed by the 2010 Fourmile Canyon fire. The High Park fire became the third most destructive fire in Colorado history, in terms of the number of houses burned, but was surpassed about a week later by the Waldo Canyon fire.
The High Park Fire was caused by lightning (the strike tree was located) and started in a difficult to access area above the Buckhorn Road in Larimer County Colorado. The fire was reported as a smoke column early on the area early in the morning on June 9, 2012. The area had been suffering from hot and dry conditions and fire danger was extreme. Multiple agencies responded for initial attack, including http://www.rcvfd.org Rist Canyon Volunteer Fire Department (the fire started in RCVFD's area), Larimer County Emergency Services, Poudre Fire Authority, Poudre Canyon Fire Protection District, Colorado State Forest Service, USFS and other local agencies. A SEAT (Single Engine Air Tanker) and Helicopter were ordered immediately. The ignition point and foot of the fire was accessible only via 4wd road that would support apparatus no larger than Type 6x NWCG Engine Standards. The fire was named High Park as this is the local name for the area it burned.
Due to extreme burning conditions, poor access and rapid fire-spread, it became rapidly clear the fire would impact multiple residential areas and evacuations were called for an increasing area through the day. Areas evacuated include: Buckhorn Canyon, Paradise Parke, Stove Prairie, Flower Road, Rist Canyon, Paradise Park, Poudre Park, Poudre Canyon, Davis Ranch, Whale Rock, Pine Acres and areas included. The evacuation lasted nearly 21 days - much longer than other large Colorado fires. Evacuation was conducted via reverse 911 calls then door to door visits by Fire Department and Law Enforcement. Due to the fact that the area is served by overhead power and phone lines, power and phone were lost very rapidly. Furthermore, the area is not served by cellular service. These factors, plus damage to infrastructure were key limiters in re-patriation. Residents would be returning to very dangerous conditions and with no effective communications.
High Park Fire, unlike others, burned very actively and with high intensity for days. This fire did not burn through and settle down, but continued to burn actively. Two weeks into the fire it was still burning so aggressively that over 50 homes were lost as the fire burned into a subdivision north of the Poudre River. This was despite days of preparatory efforts - demonstrating the power of fire in the wildland/urban interface.
While loss of so many homes in the High Park fire is certainly a tragic loss, response to the High Park fire is recognized as a model good response. Agencies in the area have a long cooperative history with established and recognized ability to work together to a common goal regardless of agency boundaries. Fire and local agency response was effective and well coordinated. Furthermore, years (decades) of active work with residents to prepare for fire was effective. Many houses survived due to efforts made by landowners that allowed the home to survive the fire front and gave fire fighters the benefit of time in defending and saving structures. That said, it was a daily battle to same home for some weeks. Critical to that success was the thorough mapping and preparation done by local fire departments which allowed incoming fire fighters to be more effective, more rapidly.
However, further work on making homes in the urban interface ignition resistant is needed. This was a major topic at the NFPA Backyards and Beyond conference held in Salt Lake City in 2013.
One of the key factors that residents must be prepared for after a major fire is flooding. According to the High Park Burned Area Emergency Response (BAER) Report the High Park area could expect water flows in streams to be 5 to 10x pre fire levels for any given rainfall. Also predicted was major flooding in the case of a significant rain event. For this reason, residents in High Park as well as Larimer County prepared extensively for flooding. Larimer County upgraded culverts in the Rist Canyon to heavy concrete structures with concrete debris wings that would prevent debris capture and subsequent blockage of the culverts. As predicted, during the spring and summer of 2013 Rist Canyon Road, Stove Prairie Road and Buckhorn Canyon Road, as well as the Poudre Canyon, experienced multiple flood events. However, due to the preparation, the impact of the events were minimized.
This culminated in the major rain/flood event of September 2013 when, over the period of just a couple of days, the front range of Colorado received extremely heavy and persistent rain. Rain gages in Rist Canyon recorded over 15" of rain. Due to the extra preparation post High Park, the Rist Canyon Road remained relatively intact. While many of the new culvert structures overtopped (as designed), they did not plug or fail and the road remained. Neighboring roads that had not received the same preparation were destroyed. For example, the Buckhorn Canyon Road - used to access the High Park Ignition point - was destroyed. Helicopter flights after the flood showed that, in many places, all signs of the road were gone.
Ultimately - due to the flood preparations by residents and agencies after High Park, that area weathered the floods of 2013 relatively well. By December 2013 all major roads in the area had received effective, if temporary, repairs and residents who had been cut off could now access their properties.