High Park fire
|High Park fire|
June 10th satellite image by NASA
|Location||Roosevelt National Forest
|Date(s)||June 9, 2012 -Fully contained June 30, 2012
5:54 a.m. (MDT)
|Burned area||87,284 acres (136.381 sq mi; 353.23 km2)|
|Buildings destroyed||259 |
The High Park fire was a wildfire in the mountains west of Fort Collins in Larimer County, Colorado, USA. 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 houses, 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 volunteer fire departments, 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 though no one in the area had ever heard this name before.
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 Park, Stove Prairie, Old Flowers Road, Rist Canyon, Paradise Park, Poudre Park, Poudre Canyon, Davis Ranch, Whale Rock, Pine Acres and more. 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 cellular phone service can be spotty in the rural canyon terrain. 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. Other factors limited residents' return to their homes or burned-out previous homes and these have never been revealed to the public.
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 despite days of preparatory efforts - demonstrating the power of fire in the wildland/rural residential interface.
The loss of 259 homes is a tragic loss for those affected. However, the failures of the responders are not recognized or readily known to the public. The responders still wish to stress the positives of the fire response though they failed to save 1 in every 5 homes. 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. Critical to that success was the thorough mapping and preparation done by Larimer County 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.
Impact of 2013 Floods
One of the key factors that residents must be prepared for after a major fire is flooding. According 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.
- "High Park Fire". Inciweb. Retrieved 2012-06-27.
- "All evacuations lifted in High Park fire". CBS4 Denver. June 30, 2012. Retrieved 2012-07-05.
- "Latest News Releases". Larimer County - Sheriff. Retrieved 2012-06-27.
- "High Park Fire Update". Larimer County Sheriff's Office. June 12, 2012. Retrieved 2012-06-27.
- Mitchell, Kirk; Udell, Erin (June 23, 2012). "Colorado's High Park fire at 82,190 acres; new pre-evacuation orders". The Denver Post. Retrieved 2012-06-27.
- 7NEWS - Number of homes destroyed by Black Forest Fire grows to 511 - News Story
- "High Park Fire Announcement: Assessment Information". Inciweb. Retrieved 2012-06-27.
- Meyer, Jeremy P.; Burnett, Sara (June 27, 2012). "Colorado wildfire: Aerial photo shows about 300 homes destroyed in Waldo Canyon Fire". Denver Post.
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