ROCKY MOUNTAIN NATIONAL PARK, Colo. (CBS4) – After the historic wildfire season in 2020, which featured the state’s largest fires ever, CBS4 was given its first tour of the damage left behind in the beloved Rocky Mountain National Park. Experts say the fires caused many popular trails and lodges to be destroyed. However, they also said the impact could have been much worse.

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“To go and see the area is completely decimated, completely black and rocks everywhere, it was eye-opening,” said Doug Parker, Trail Program Supervisor at RMNP.

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The East Troublesome Fire and Cameron Peak Fire both threatened the park at the same time in October 2020. The park had to be evacuated as the fires crept in, burning down staff lodges and more.

“There are the landscape impacts and then there are the structure impacts,” said Kyle Patterson, spokesperson for RMNP.

“Fifteen percent of the park trail system was affected in the fire events,” Parker said. “We have seen thousands and thousands of trees down along the trails.”

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Fire experts said years of preparation for possible fires helped limit the fire impacts in 2020. They also said a unique day of fog helped park the fire for a while, which gave firefighters more time to battle the blazes.

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“All of these fuels treatments and roads were designed to be a catcher’s mitt. If the fire came, we would utilize these fire treatments,” said Mike Lewelling of RMNP.

Unfortunately, wildlife was impacted by the fire. Some animals were killed, and their habitats destroyed.

“The streams were ashy. We saw fish kills in the Big Thompson and some of the creeks,” said Koren Nydick, Chief of Resource Stewardship at RMNP. “There was ash in their gills.”

Experts said the fire largely burned the surface of the park, leaving roots for many plants below the surface still intact. Lewlling said the fires of 2020 has reminded staff why it is so important to be prepared for blazes.

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“We have become much-much more intense on how much fuel we are taking out,” Lewelling said.

Dillon Thomas