"Medano Fire" Nearing 5,500 Acres in Great Sand Dunes National Park

Forest fires can be deceiving in their appearances. The top photo was taken June 16 when the Medano fire made a spectacular run in Great Sand Dunes National Park. But fire bosses say the bottom photo is more typical of burning conditions associated with the fire. NPS photos.

A fire sparked by lightning on June 6 in Great Sand Dunes National Park now covers nearly 5,500 acres. While 344 firefighters are battling the flames, park managers also are using the fire to achieve management goals.

The "Medano" fire is burning near Little Medano Creek in an area of Ponderosa pine forest about 4 miles north of the park's visitor center. It has forced the closure of the Medano Pass Road from its beginning in the park to Highway 59 on the east side of the Sangre de Cristo Mountain Range, according to Park Service personnel. The Sand Ramp Trail also is closed at Castle Creek, and the Mosca Pass Trail is totally closed, they added.

Management goals hoped to be achieved by letting the fire burn to a certain extent include reintroducing fire to a fire-adapted ecosystem while also providing for visitor safety, the Park Service said.

Additionally, fire bosses hope to be able to protect Native American Scar Trees -- living trees from which Native Americans harvested materials such as bark or resins for cultural, ceremonial, or territorial purposes -- as well as structures on private property on the east side of the Sangre de Cristo Mountain Range.