High winds push Big Meadows Fire to 300-400 acres in Rocky Mountain National Park

Fire in forest that is 70-90% beetle-killed trees

ROCKY MOUNTAIN NATIONAL PARK, Colo. - The Big Meadows Fire, which started the day at just two or three acres, grew throughout the day to 300 or 400 acres in Rocky Mountain National Park by Tuesday evening.

The fire began Monday afternoon when a lightning strike ignited grass in the Big Meadows, 4.5 miles from the Green Mountain Trailhead on the west side of the park, said park spokesman Kyle Patterson.

The fire took off Tuesday afternoon, fed by rising winds and lower humidity as it burned in a fuel-rich area where pine beetles have killed 70-90 percent of the trees.

All those factors "just became ripe for this fire to grow," Patterson said.

Unlike fires burning elsewhere in the state, the Big Meadows Fire is not threatening any structures or communities.

A park spokeswoman reports that a Boise Smokejumper Type III Team has taken over management of the fire but a Type II management team is expected to take over Thursday morning.

The current fire managers have ordered additional firefighting resources including three additional helicopters and five additional Type I crews. The Craig Hotshot Type I crew arrived Tuesday afternoon.

Wednesday's forecast predicts more warm, dry and windy conditions. Rocky Mountain National Park said the fire is expected to be active.

There are five trails temporarily closed in the area -- the Onahu Trail, the Green Mountain Trail, the lower Tonahutu Trail, the Tonahutu Spur Trail and the Grand Lake Lodge Spur Trail.

Earlier Tuesday, park officials had said they planned to fight the fire on the west side of the park instead of letting it burn.

Meanwhile, the Fern Lake Fire, which started on Oct. 9, 2012, continues to burn near the center of the park.

Unprecedented in the park's history, the 3,500-acre Fern Lake Fire withstood a two-month effort by firefighters from across the country to snuff it last fall. The Fern Lake Fire was temporarily halted by winter snowstorms, but it burns on.

The Fern Lake Fire is located in the largely inaccessible Forest Canyon, which has had been untouched by fire for at least 800 years, according to the park's website. "A long-term drought had left fuels tinder-dry in the forest fuel layer that sometimes exceeds twenty feet deep. Mountain pine beetles have killed half the trees in the canyon, with every compromised tree posing a hazard for firefighters. The typically windy conditions in the canyon only increased the danger," the website says.

"Park fire managers knew from the beginning the Fern Lake Fire was going to be a long-term event. There was limited ability to fight the fire directly because of high winds, steep terrain, and beetle-killed trees. Firefighter safety is the park's number one priority. The high winds impacted both air operations and safety of firefighters," the website says.