Rocky Mountain National Park damage from East Troublesome fire

Rocky Mountain National Park lost several structures when the East Troublesome fire blew up overnight on Oct. 22, crossing into the park’s boundary and burning nearly 30,000 acres.

In a statement released Friday, the park said the fire destroyed the historic Onahu Lodge and Green Mountain cabins, which are landmarks located along Trail Ridge Road in the Kawuneeche Valley and were eligible for the National Register of Historic Places due to their rustic design and connection to 20th-century ranching and resort industries. The park also used them to house seasonal staff.

Rocky also lost the Trails and Tack Barn, the Grand Lake entrance station office (although not the entrance kiosks), and the garage structure at Trail River Ranch, which stored historic contents that were also lost.

On the east side of Rocky, the fire destroyed the park’s oldest structure, the Fern Lake Backcountry Patrol Cabin, which was constructed in 1925.

RELATED: Photos show damage to Rocky Mountain National Park from East Troublesome Fire

“In 95 years, countless rangers, wilderness crews, trails crews, biologists, and search and rescue operations have been based and supported out of this cabin,” said Darla Sidles, park superintendent, in a press statement.

The main park housing area, the Kawuneeche Visitor Center, the Trail River Ranch main building and Buckaroo Barn were spared, the park said.

The East Troublesome fire has grown to 193,812 Acres and was 47% contained as of Friday afternoon. The fire is still active in remote areas of the park so staff cannot get in to do a full assessment of the damage.

The park says it will prepare a Burned Area Emergency Response Plan to assess the burned areas, looking for potential disturbances and recommending ways to mitigate impacts when possible. The park said it will use research and monitoring to track and understand post-fire effects and recovery.

Wildfire mitigation in Rocky Mountain National Park

Rocky, the third-most-visited national park in 2019, has been aware of the wildfire danger it poses to Estes Park for at least 20 years, the park said.

“Over that time, there was a realization that wildfires are getting larger nationwide, fire seasons are getting longer and to make matters worse, the mountain pine beetle outbreak created a fuels profile that is very volatile,” said Fire Management Officer Mike Lewelling in a press statement.

Over the past five years, the park has tried to create a “catcher’s mitt” around Estes Park and other areas near Allenspark and Lily Lake, which included thinning trees and setting prescribed fires.

“It was widely accepted that these fuels treatments on their own would probably not stop a fire, but they give firefighters a chance,” Lewelling said.

He said these efforts were key in protecting the Kawuneeche housing area and visitor center. They also slowed the fire’s spread on the east side.

But East Troublesome still did a number on the park. It burned ponderosa pine woodlands and uplands meadows, as well as spruce-fir and lodgepole pine forests that had a high-degree of beetle-killed trees. It also burned through wetlands, riparian areas and aspen groves, which are all ecosystems that would normally buffer a fire but are currently experiencing extremely dry conditions.

Although fire is natural, the park said natural recovery could be hurt by “changed environmental conditions,” as well as the spread of exotic plants. While plants are still recovering, more water runoff is anticipated, which could affect downstream ecosystems, infrastructure and water systems.

“We will continue to assess additional areas in the park that we can reopen when it is safe to do so,” Sidles side. “The natural resources will recover with new life sprouting up in the fire’s footprint, and we will move forward and continue to do our best to manage Rocky Mountain National Park to preserve the natural and cultural resources for the enjoyment, education, and inspiration of this and future generations.”

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