Sun December 2, 2012

Fern Lake Fire Holds At 3,584 Acres, Red Flag Warning Issued [UPDATED]

High winds are helping spread the Fern Lake Fire. The fire has charred nearly 2.5 square miles and exploded to over 3,000 acres. With high winds forecast for Sunday afternoon and evening, additional growth may be seen.

Update 10:40 a.m. 12/2: The Fern Lake Fire remains at 3,584 acres as of 10 a.m. Sunday morning. According to park officials the blaze is around 20% contained. A red flag warning has been issued for the area from noon Sunday until 6 a.m. Monday morning. Traci Weaver with the National Parks Service says conditions Sunday afternoon and evening will be very similar to what was seen Saturday morning when the fire exploded from around 1500 acres to over 3,000 acres. 

The latest perimeter map from inciweb.org
Credit inciweb.org

Weaver says firefighters worked through the night Saturday preparing the area for the change in weather conditions and are hopeful the fire will not grow significantly.

“If we get through tonight, things will look much better as the week progresses.”

Around 200 firefighters are on scene and a Type one incident management team is being briefed and should be in place by Monday morning.

Structure protection crews will be working along the 66 highway corridor which remains evacuated.  

While no new mandatory evacuations have been issued, there have been additional pre evacuation orders given for the Mary’s Lake area. New areas under pre-evacuation notice include areas west of Moraine Avenue to the Park Ridge Road area and south to Hwy 7 and Fish Creek Road. Nick Christensen with the Larimer County Sheriff's office says Woodland Heights also remains under pre-evacuation status.

“We’re just asking residents in those areas to treat those pre-evacuations very seriously and remain ready to go.  This is clearly a very wind and weather driven fire.” He says depending on conditions there could be more evacuation notices, and asks the public to remain vigilant and informed.

With school in session at the Estes Park High School Monday, the Fern Lake Fire evacuation center will be moving Sunday evening to the Mountain View Bible Fellowship at Hwy 7 and Peak view in Estes Park.

There will be a public meeting at 5 p.m. at the Estes Park town hall.

The number for more information on pre-evacuations is 970-577-3716. It will connect callers to the joint information center in Estes Park.

Inciweb.org has additional information on the fire.

Update 5:48 p.m: The Fern Lake fire now stands at 3,584 acres, more than doubling in size as unseasonably warm temperatures and high winds fanned the blaze early Saturday morning.  As of the 5 p.m. briefing, there is no estimate on containment. Previously containment was said to be 40%.

Park officials are ‘cautiously optimistic’ going into the overnight hours, however a fire weather watch has been issued beginning Sunday afternoon and lasting into Sunday evening.  Residential areas still in mandatory evacuation will not be allowed to return home tonight, and the Red Cross says they will keep the evacuation shelter at Estes Park High School open through the night.

(find current information on evacuations here.)

Growth has been most extreme to the eastern edge of the blaze, nearing the eastern edge of the park. The fire burned through all of Moraine Park.  At one point the blaze moved 3 miles in 35 minutes as winds gusted to 70 miles per hour creating spot fires well ahead of an established fire line.

Traci Weaver with the National Park Service says while the blaze has grown substantially, the area burned is not a total loss.

“When a fire burns it doesn’t necessarily blacken or devastate or kill all the trees in that fire area. I know folks love this park and love this resource and it’s not a moonscape out there. It’s going to have green patches and a mosaic pattern where it burned.”

Firefighters will continue to monitor the blaze overnight, and more reinforcements should arrive sometime Sunday.

Update 2:13 p.m: Bad weather has delayed two heavy air tankers ordered by incident commanders for the Fern Lake Fire.  The tankers, based in southern California will not arrive as anticipated Saturday, but remain on order and should be in Colorado by Sunday. Multiple resources are now working the blaze including a Type 1 Incident Management Team and two type one helicopters. Many local fire departments are providing structure protection. The east side of Rocky Mountain National Park remains closed, however according to inciweb.org, the Fall River Visitors Center remains open. Evacuations remain in place.

Update 11:19 a.m.: Two heavy air tankers are on their way to fight the active Fern Lake Fire burning inside Rocky Mountain National Park. They should be on the scene around noon. Traci Weaver with the National Parks Service says the tankers are flying directly from southern California.

A type one fire incident management team has been ordered, and will be briefed today. In addition to the incoming air support, additional hotshot crews are on their way. According to inciweb.org, 61 personnel are currently battling the blaze which has grown to 1,515 acres. It remains 40 percent contained.

Weaver says the blaze grew rapidly until 4 a.m. Saturday morning, but settled down after that. To the relief of firefighters, the fire did not cross Bear Lake Road. One cabin was lost in the blaze; however no injuries have been reported.

Nick Christensen with the Larimer County Sheriff’s office says over 1,000 phone notifications went out to area residents this morning, most were pre-evacuation orders.  As of now, Christensen says no additional evacuations have been needed.

The Denver Post reports that 583 homes have been evacuated.

“We’d like to thank the citizens for their cooperation with that, again we know it’s hard to be out of their homes.  And at this point any further evacuations won’t be necessary, but if they are they’d be driven by fire behavior at this point,” says Christensen.

Traci Weaver says the source of the blaze was an illegal escaped campfire. Specifics of the blaze are still under investigation. Currently all open fires are prohibited in the park. Weaver added the blaze has been very difficult to contain due to rugged terrain, and the dry warm weather this late in the season is not helping.

“What we really need is snow. It would be great if we could get some good snowfall on this fire.  If we could get significant weather changes we could definitely get an upper hand on the fire.”

The next update from incident commanders will be at 5 p.m. Saturday evening. Our original update follows:


Moraine Park Campground was evacuated this morning and strong winds have pushed the fire to Moraine Park.  The Fern Lake Fire has not yet crossed Bear Lake Road.

The Larimer County Sheriff’s Office has issued evacuations orders for the following areas:

  • Highway 66 and all adjacent streets including the YMCA
  • High Drive and all adjacent streets 
  • Marys Lake Road up to Moraine Ave to Marys Lake on the West side.

Evacuees should meet at Estes Park High School at 1600 Manford Ave. in Estes Park.

The east side of Rocky Mountain National Park is closed until further notice. The park housing area as well as park headquarters and Beaver Meadows Visitor Center is in the evacuation area.

The Fern Lake Fire started Oct. 9.

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