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Fire in Yellowstone National Park Prepared by the Environmental Science and Public Policy Research Institute, Boise State University FIRES of 1988 Most of 20th century Fire viewed as a destructive force 1940s Ecologists recognized fire as a primary agent of change in many ecosystems 1950s/60s National parks and forests began to experiment with controlled burns 1972 Yellowstone instituted a natural fire management plan allowing lightning-caused fire to burn 1972-1987 235 fires allowed to burn 33,759 acres. Only 15 of those fires were larger than 100 acres, and all were extinguished naturally. 1982-1987 Wetter than average summers, relatively low fire activity 1988 April/May Higher-than normal rainfall. June The greater Yellowstone area - severe drought. Lightning without rain. Eleven of 20 early-season fires went out naturally, and the rest were being monitored in accordance with the existing fire management plan. July 15 Only 8,500 acres had burned in the entire greater Yellowstone area. July 21 Decision made to suppress all fires. One week later Fires within the park alone encompassed more than 99,000 acres. End of July Dry fuels and high winds combined to make the larger fires nearly uncontrollable. August 20 Tremendous winds pushed fire across more than 150,000 acres. Throughout August and early September, some park roads and facilities were closed to the public, and residents of nearby towns outside the park feared for their property and their lives. By September 10 Rain and first snows dampened the fires. Imminent danger over. November Last of smoldering flames extinguished. Despite critical burning conditions during the summer, 81 percent of the total 248 fires in the Greater Yellowstone Area were suppressed at an average size of 10 acres or less. BY THE NUMBERS FIRES 248 Total fire starts in Greater Yellowstone Area 50 In Yellowstone National Park. 31 Fires allowed to burn; 28 of these began inside the park. 7 Caused more than 95% of the burned acreage, 5 of them started outside the park, 3 were human- caused and firefighters attempted to control from the beginning. DAMAGE 2 Deaths. Two firefighters outside the park. 1.2 million Acres burned 793,000 (about 36%) of the park’s 2,221,800 acres were burned. 67 Structures were destroyed, including 18 cabins used by employees and guests and one backcountry patrol cabin in Yellowstone. $3 million Estimated property damage 345 Dead elk (of an estimated 40,000-50,000), 36 Deer 12 Moose 6 Black bears 9 Bison FIRE FIGHTING EFFORT 25,000+ Firefighters, as many as 9000 at one time $120 million Total cost 665 Miles of hand-cut fireline 137 Miles of bulldozer lines, including 32 miles in the park, SIMILARITIES BETWEEN YELLOWSTONE IN 1988 AND SNRA Organic Acts determine many management options. Dominated by lodgepole pine. Drought. Mountain Pine Beetle Infestations – peaked in Yellowstone 10 years before 1988 fires. Neither area had experienced large fires in recent years. Yellowstone N.P. had large fires around 1700. DIFFERENCES Many lodgepole pines in Yellowstone are serotinous needing fire to open cones for reseeding; SNRA generally has non-serotinous cones. Yellowstone forests had an understory of Engleman spruce and subalpine fir present as ladder fuels; SNRA has relatively little to no understory. Fire Regime Class is a V in Yellowstone with a Fire Return Interval of 200+ years and a IV in SNRA with Fire Return Interval of 100 years. National Park vs. National Recreation Area – National Park does not allowing hunting or any consumptive activities such as logging. 15 more years of fire fighting experience and lessons learned from Yellowstone. From Yellowstone webpage. From Yellowstone webpage. References: Yellowstone National Park Wildfire Webpage. Personal communication with Bill Romme, Colorado State. Franke, M.A. 2000. Yellowstone in the afterglow: Lessons from the fires. National Park Service, Mammoth Hot Springs, Wyoming, YCRÑNRÑ2000Ñ03. Bob Mutch, Fire Management Applications, Missoula, MT.