Tree age and fire history were studied in an unlogged ponderosa pine/Douglas‐fir ( Pinus ponderosa/Pseudotsuga menziesii ) landscape in the Colorado Front Range mountains. These data were analysed to understand tree survival during fire and post‐fire recruitment patterns after fire, as a basis for understanding the characteristics of, and restoration needs for, an ecologically sustainable landscape. Comparisons of two independent tree age data sets indicated that sampling what subjectively appear to be the five oldest trees in a forest polygon could identify the oldest tree. Comparisons of the ages of the oldest trees in each data set with maps of fire history suggested that delays in establishment of trees, after stand‐replacing fire, ranged from a few years to more than a century. These data indicate that variable fire severity, including patches of stand replacement, and variable temporal patterns of tree recruitment into openings after fire were major causes of spatial heterogeneity of patch structure in the landscape. These effects suggest that restoring current dense and homogeneous ponderosa pine forests to an ecologically sustainable and dynamic condition should reflect the roles of fires and variable patterns of tree recruitment in regulating landscape structure.