National Fire Plan

Long Mesa Fire

Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado
August 9, 2002


On July 29, 2002 at approximately 2:00 pm, the Long Mesa Fire started.  Despite all the efforts of the fire management staff and fire crews in and around Mesa Verde National Park, the Long Mesa Fire grew very rapidly, ultimately burning more than 2,600 acres.  An hour and a half into the fire, the photo on the right was taken from the top of the million-gallon capacity water tank; the roof of the tank was later destroyed when the fire ran across the developed area.  The fire was too remote to reach by ground, so air support was called.  Friday, August 2, 2002, monsoonal rains brought moisture on scene and helped bring the fire in check.  By Monday, August 5, 2002 the fire was 100% contained.   A few park structures and some infrastructure (phones, electricity, water, and sewer) were lost in the fire but the benefit of thinning fuels around developed areas paid off as many more structures and homes were saved.


Nearly one hundred years of fire suppression in Mesa Verde National Park has increased fuel loadings and density of vegetation resulting in an increased potential for large wildland fires.  Because of this increased threat, Mesa Verde has implemented several strategies to help protect human life and the park’s resources. In addition to basic suppression, the park has initiated programs for prescribed fire and hazard fuel reduction. Around developed areas on Chapin Mesa, approximately 25 acres of forest has been thinned to twenty foot crown spacing.  A fifteen-acre safety zone was constructed in the event a fire prevents staff and the public from leaving the park.   The safety zone permits fire personnel and equipment to remain until the fire threat passes and then they can quickly return to take further fire suppression actions.  Although the threat of fire still exists, Mesa Verde National Park is becoming increasingly prepared to defend itself through these fire protection and prevention programs.


Safety Zone



Spruce Tree House







The left photo is the Headquarters loop and contains Spruce Tree House, third largest cliff dwelling in the park.
The safety zone is in the upper center of both photos.  Fire retardant was laid down to help protect the perimeter.
 The right photo below shows where the fire burned on Chapin and Long Mesas.