Post-Fire Hazards

Throughout history, wildfires have left their mark on the Medicine Bow-Routt National Forests and Thunder Basin National Grassland. Since 2000, wildfires have left their mark on more than half a million acres of National Forest System Lands on the MBRTB. When the impacts on surrounding federal, state, and private lands are considered, the acreage is even higher. 

Regardless of size or intensity, fire brings changes to the forests and grassland. Over time, the forest will adapt and regrow. The five years immediately following a wildfire, however, have an increased risk of hazardous post-fire impacts including flooding, falling hazard trees, and the spread of noxious weeds. In addition to typical Safe and Responsible Recreation, extra precautions should be taken. This page provides guidance for limiting risk in the years immediately following wildfire, as well as maps of fires from recent years. For information on impacts to hunting and wildlife, please contact Colorado Parks and Wildlife or Wyoming Game and Fish.

Potential Post-Fire Effects

  • Increased soil erosion and runoff
  • Greater flooding and debris flow potential during or after rainstorms
  • Roads may be flooded and impassable
  • Increased risk of hazard trees falling
  • Increased spread of noxious weeds

 Why Fires Are a Flood Risk

  • Before the fire, litter such as needles, leaves, and grass absorb water and promote infiltration.
  • During the fire, when organic material burns at high intensity, it can cause its water repellent compounds to become vaporized. This vapor may then condense on cooler soil layers below the surface.
  • After the fire, water cannot penetrate the repellent soil layer, so it runs off like pavement. This is depicted in the image below.

Image demonstrating how soil becomes water repellent after fire.

What You Can Do

In Case of Emergency

  • Stay alert! Evacuations may be necessary. You may only have seconds to escape, act quickly.
  • Move to higher ground away from streams or drainages.
  • Do not drive or walk through flooded waters.
  • Contact the authorities, but be aware that service is limited in many areas.

Be Prepared & Aware of Your Surroundings:

  • Know of planned operations in the area. After a fire, many rehabilition efforts may be occurring to limit the spread of invasive species, repair infratructure, and mitigate other risks. Check our Facebook or Twitter feeds to see if any operations are planned for your destination that may impact your trip. 
  • Stay informed through local radio and other media for public safety bulletins, including emergency weather alerts through county or National Weather Service communications.
  • Develop an emergency-response and plan prior to your visit.
  • Assemble an emergency supply kit: first aid supplies, blankets, food, water, cell phone, etc.
  • Do not park or camp under dead, dying, or burned trees. Wind and saturated soils create a higher risk of falling trees.
  • Pay attention to areas of high debris flow potential, such as steep hillslopes, and stream drainages.
  • Use only certified weed free hay to prevent the introduction of invasive species to the burned area.
  • Contact the local Forest Service office for additional information before heading out on your trip.
  • Read more about post fire emergency preparedness in NWS Los Angeles' Post Wildfire Flash Flood and Debris Flow Guide.

Check Conditions Before You Go

The National Weather Service provides useful and accurate forecasting, as well as warning information on flash flooding. Additionally, Ranger Districts are a good contact to understand what risks may be present at your intended destination. County Emergency Management offices also provide emergency information. Follow the links in the table below to visit county websites.

Colorado Wyoming

Garfield | Grand | Jackson
Moffat | Rio Blanco | Routt

Albany | Campbell | Carbon
Converse | Crook | Natrona
Niobrara | Platte | Weston

Five Year Fire History

Fires are organized in chronological order by year. The counties impacted by the fires are indicated in parentheses. Maps indicate final fire perimeter.

*Map indicates closure areas no longer in effect.