Firefighters Allowing Cow Creek Fire To Continue To Burn

Officials In Rocky Mountain National Park Say Fire No Threat To Human Lives, Property

There's a fire burning in Rocky Mountain National Park and firefighters aren't doing anything to stop it.

A lightning strike sparked the Cow Creek wildfire in the northeast section of the park in mid-June. But because the fire isn't a threat to human lives or property, park ecologists say it's better to let it burn.

"Obviously this won't burn again for quite some time, so it provides a measure of protection for the surrounding communities," said Nate Williamson, fire ecologist for RMNP. "It's burning up all that dead material, releasing those nutrients back into the ground."

The fire has burned about 1,100 acres a few miles north of Estes Park. It's in an area that hasn't burned in 370 years.

"Records show it hasn't burned since 1647," said Mike Lewelling, fire management officer for RMNP. "If firefighter safety isn't an issue and public safety isn't a concern, we are allowed through land management plans to look and see whether the fire's doing well ecologically."

Spotters are keeping an eye on the fire from a lookout point a few miles to the east of the blaze with binoculars and two-way radios. At least 11 firefighters are on the ground near the fire lines monitoring it as well.

The fire flares up occasionally, which sends plumes of smoke into the air that can be seen from the Front Range. The park is fielding a lot of calls from concerned citizens regarding the smoke, but assures it is under control.

Photographs show new Aspen stands already sprouting in the area where the Cow Creek fire first started.

"Dead, downed logs and debris will be consumed, allowing nutrients to be recycled back into the soil. Thick stands of trees will burn, allowing the area to open up to sunlight, allowing for improved wildlife habitat," the RMNP said in a statement.

Firefighters are also using weekly infrared flights to monitor the fire.

"They're able to show us hot spots along the perimeter where the fire growth is," said Lewelling.

The fire was burning at the same time two other fires, Fourmile Canyon and Reservoir Road, were fought feverishly by firefighters because of the threat they posed. The Fourmile Canyon Fire west of Boulder started on Labor Day and consumed 169 homes before it was contained. It now stands as the worst disaster in terms of property loss in Colorado history. The Reservoir Road fire started a week after the Fourmile Fire and destroyed two homes. Both fires were caused by humans. Charges are pending in the Reservoir Road Fire.