Fern Lake Fire Flares Up, Leads To Evacuation Order For Parts Of Gateway Town To Rocky Mountain National Park

Winds gusting upwards of 75 mph pushed the Fern Lake Fire down towards Estes Park, the gateway town on the eastern side of Rocky Mountain National Park, prompting evacuations of outlying areas. Top photo, by Dennis Geving shows the fire burning in the forest canopy on Tuesday. Bottom photo from earlier this week depicts smoke from the fire descending on the YMCA complex. NPS photo.

A stubborn wildfire in Rocky Mountain National Park that has been smoldering and actively burning off and on since early October has flared up under gusting winds, forcing authorities to order the evacuation of outlying areas of Estes Park, Colorado.

Shortly before 2 a.m. Saturday authorities evacuated the Moraine Park Campground inside the park as the Fern Lake Fire was pushed by winds into Moraine Park. Not long afterwards the Larmier County sheriff ordered evacuations for Highway 66 and all adjacent streets, including the YMCA, High Drive, and all adjacent streets, and Marys Lake Road up to Moraine Avenue to Marys Lake on the west side of town.

By sunrise Saturday roughly 450 people had gathered in the Estes Park High School to see what the day's firefighting efforts would bring. At the same time, the east side of Rocky Mountain National Park was closed until further notice. The park housing area as well as park headquarters and Beaver Meadows Visitor Center also were evacuated.

Traci Weaver, an information officer with the national park, said the fire covered roughly 1,500 acres at mid-day Friday, but winds that were forecast to carry 75 mph gusts overnight no doubt had boosted its size.

While firefighting doesn't typically occur after dark, due to the windy forecast some crews had been monitoring the fire. When gusting winds strengthened and led to spotting -- embers carried on the winds -- a mile ahead of the main fire, the decision was made to evacuate the campground and call in additional firefighting resources, she said Saturday morning.

“The fire spotted down into Moraine Park, which is a grassy area where they were able to take some action, do a little bit of burning out, stop the fire from crossing the Bear Lake Road," she said.

Roughly 60 firefighters battled the blaze through the night, and calls were made to bring in several larger fire engines that could deal with structure fires if needed, along with other firefighting resources, said Ms. Weaver.

Among those resources was a helitanker -- a Skycrane helicopter with a snorkel that could suck up water into a belly tank. It carries about 1,000 gallons per drop, she said.

The winds did drop shortly before sunrise, but were still expected to remain somewhat gusty until mid-afternoon Saturday, she said.

The Fern Lake Fire, which was reported October 9, is being managed under a full-suppression strategy. Most of the wildfire is burning in steep, rugged terrain.