© 2024
NPR for Northern Colorado
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

A Year On, How The High Park Fire Unfolded

Kirk Mowers

This weekend marks the one-year anniversary of the High Park Fire northwest of Fort Collins. The 87 thousand acre wildfire destroyed 259 homes and killed one person.

The High Park Fire was one of the most destructive wildfires in Colorado’s recent history. It wasn’t alone either. Later in June, it was joined by the Waldo Canyon Fire in what some called the summer of fires. At one point, you could see five distinct wildfires burning in the state.

JUNE 9, 2012

Just before 6:00 a.m. the High Park Fire was discovered about 15 miles west of Fort Collins, Colorado. The fire quickly grew, fueled by high winds and extremely dry vegetation. What started as a relatively small 200 acres quickly escalated and finished the day at 8,000 acres. In the path of the fire was KUNC’s main transmitter, which was knocked off the air as the fire consumed the power lines that fed the site.

Evacuations were ordered on day one of the fire; those would later expand as the fire expanded. Sharon and Mike Guli lived in Paradise Park, they were among the many evacuated on the first day. They lost their home in the fire, but other buildings on their property remained untouched.

The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Aqua satellite captured these images on June 9 (below) and June 10, 2012 (bottom). Red outlines show the approximate boundaries of actively burning fires. Thick smoke was carried eastward on both days.

Credit NASA EO
NASA Earth Observatory image by Jesse Allen, using data provided courtesy of the LANCE MODIS Rapid Response team.

JUNE 10, 2012

As seen from space just one day later, the fire was growing quickly. The end of the second day of the fire saw the estimated size grow to 20,000+ acres.

Credit NASA EO
NASA Earth Observatory image by Jesse Allen, using data provided courtesy of the LANCE MODIS Rapid Response team.

JUNE 11, 2012

On Monday, June 11 the Larimer County Sheriff confirmed late in the day that the fire had claimed a victim. LindaSteadman would be the only life lost in the fire. As we wrote at the time:

“Her home received two emergency notifications while the fire advanced and emergency workers that were sent to the home were unable to reach it. They were turned back by the encroaching fire.”

By June 12, the fire blackened more than 43,000 acres. As the Incident Management Team took over the fire and brought additional resources to bear, the cause of the fire was announced – a lightning strike.

This time lapse, taken June 17, shows the smoke that would dominate the view from Fort Collins for the duration of the fire.


JUNE 23, 2012

Day fifteen saw another fire break out close to the High Park Fire, an unrelated fire in nearby Estes Park. It was also the start of the Waldo Canyon Fire outside of Colorado Springs. By June 23, the High Park had grown to 81,190 acres.

JULY 1, 2012

It wasn’t until 23 days after the start, July 1 2012, that the High Park Fire was 100 percent contained. In all, the fire burned 87,284 acres.

Acres Burned by Ownership, according to Inciweb:

  • Private: 39,570
  • State: 5,022
  • U.S. Forest Service: 42,634
  • Bureau of Land Management: 28
  • Bureau of Reclamation: 30

Reporter Grace Hoodspoke with Sharon and Mike Guli, keeping in contact with them as they rebuilt after the fire.

“It’s been interesting to me because as we’ve observed the last year I figure if I ever write a book, my chapters will have to be color coded to go from the gray to the black to the brown,” said Sharon.

Six months on from the start, the Gulis were back on their property working to remove burnt trees. Today, the rubble from their house is gone and they continue to pursue life on their Paradise Park property.

Credit Grace Hood / KUNC
One year later, the path of the High Park Fire is clearly visible.

The Rist Canyon Volunteer Fire Department was among the first responders to the blaze. All of the departments 35 firefighters and 12 vehicles were devoted to fighting the High Park. They’re credited with saving many homes, even as eight of their own lost homes to the fire.

The department even lost one of their own buildings, Station Four, near the Whale Rock Subdivision – one of the hardest hit in the fire. Six months after, life was slowly returned to normal for the Rist Canyon VFD, but they were rebuilding like many of the residents.

Reporter Nathan Heffel recently revisited the Rist Canyon Volunteer Fire Department, finding that they’re still “living with the fire.” Daily reminders abound, especially dealing with the after effects of a fire – namely mudslides and runoff.

Credit Nathan Heffel / KUNC
Chief Bob Gann, left, stands with a $10,000 check that allowed The Rist Canyon VFD to purchase a thermal imaging camera. Gann say it greatly increased the department's ability to fight fires.

One year later, the rebuilding still continues in the High Park Fire burn zone. Of the 259 homes that were lost, only 9 have been rebuilt. Progress is slow, with only 18 percent of the fire’s survivors having started the rebuilding process.

A fire near Lory State Park, March 15 2013, rekindled fears of another strong wildfire season. Instead, the season has been slow to start, keeping the focus on the work being done – not on fighting anymore fires. Officials, residents, and the forest continue to rebuild and restore after the High Park Fire.

Editor’s Note: Our full archive of coverage of the High Park Fire starts at the beginning, June 9 2012 and continues right up to today. You can view a slideshow of photos from inside the burn zone, or from the top of Buckhorn Mountain – home to KUNC’s transmitter and near to where the fire started.

This post was updated from its original publish time 12:08 p.m. adding additional content.

I’m not a Colorado native (did you know that "I'm from Missouri" means "I'm skeptical of the matter and not easily convinced?") but I have lived here for most of my life and couldn't imagine leaving. After graduating from Colorado State University, I did what everyone wants to do; I moved to the mountains and skied, hiked, and hid from responsibility! Our listeners in the mountains may know me from my time in Steamboat Springs and Vail or as the voice of the Battle Mountain Huskies Hockey team in Vail.
Related Content