A wildfire sparked by lightning in the backcountry of Rocky Mountain National Park was burning across 400 or so acres Wednesday. Fire bosses were working on a strategy to contain the blaze on the western side of the Continental Divide and away from Trail Ridge Road.
The "Big Meadows Fire" was burning on the west side of the national park roughly 4.5 miles from the Green Mountain Trailhead in a rugged, steep landscape dense in trees killed by bark beetles. Due to the great number of dry, dead trees, an indirect attack was planned with the intent of holding the fire east of Trail Ridge Road (Highway 34), west of the Continental Divide, and north of Tonahutu Creek. No structures or communities were at risk, according to park officials.
The forecast called for winds between 8-12 mph with gusts as high as 20 mph with a slight chance of a thunderstorm after 2 p.m. Those conditions were a slight improvement over Tuesday's weather, when the winds gusted to 40 mph, park officials said.
Battling the wildfire is particularly difficult due to other fires in Colorado and elsewhere in the country. U.S. Forest Service officials were boosting their capabilities of responding to the fires by mobilizing two Department of Defense C-130s equipped with "Modular Airborne Firefighting Systems," known as MAFFS, to assist with wildfire suppression efforts in Colorado and elsewhere in the West as needed.
The systems will be provided by the 302nd Airlift Wing, Air Force Reserve, Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado, and based in Colorado Springs. Forest Service officials said the aircraft would begin flying wildfire suppression missions as soon as safe and effective operations can be established.
“We are experiencing an uptick in wildfire activity and we are mobilizing MAFFS to ensure that we have adequate air tanker capability as we confront explosive wildfire conditions in Colorado, New Mexico, and elsewhere in the West,” said Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell. “Maintaining adequate aerial firefighting capability is critical to provide support to, and enhance the safety of, the firefighters on the ground who are working so hard to suppress wildfires that are threatening lives, homes, infrastructure, and valuable natural and cultural resources.”
At Rocky Mountain National Park, officials temporarily closed seven trails due to the Big Meadows Fire: the Onahu Trail, the Green Mountain Trail, the lower Tonahutu Trail, the Tonahutu Spur Trail, the Grand Lake Lodge Spur Trail, the Timber Lake Trail and the trail which branches toward Mount Ida from Milner Pass. All major roads and facilities in the park were open, as were those linking the communities of Grand Lake and Estes Park.
The park set up a recorded Fire Information Line at (970) 586-1381 that will be updated when information on the Big Meadows Fire is available.
Fire managers Tuesday called in additional air and ground resources, including more helicopters that can dump water on the flames and hotshot crews to battle the flames on the ground.