25th Anniversary of Yellowstone Park Fires - KULR8.com | News, Weather & Sports in Billings, Montana

25th Anniversary of Yellowstone Park Fires

Posted: Updated:

25 years ago, a series of fires changed the landscape of Yellowstone National Park, and it also changed the way parks handled fires.

KULR 8's Stella Daskalakis looks back on those historical blazes.

"Nothing compares to the 1988 season that season alone is off the charts."

A season that reshaped Yellowstone National Park.

Roy Renkin is a Supervisory Vegetation Specialist with the park and works there now and 25 years ago.

With higher than normal rainfall - park officials felt it would be a mild year similar to previous years.

"A lot of the actions and decisions that were made in 1988 particularly in the first half of the year were all based on the high likelihood that we would receive some of this monsoonal moisture. In reality however, we never did get that moisture," says Renkin.

But the summer took a radical turn as the rains stopped. Dry days turned to drought, becoming the driest in the park's recorded history.

"And it was kind of like the snowball rolling off the mountain, the longer we went on in the summer, the more chaotic the situation became."

By the end of July, fires charred 99,000 acres and nothing seemed to be able to stop the blazes.

On August 20th, strong winds pushed across the park, more than 150,000 acres burned, the single worst day.

People debated the park's fire policy as those who lived near the park feared for their property, their homes, and their lives. It became the nation's biggest fire-fighting effort.

More than 25,000 firefighters battled the blazes, even as many as 9,000 at one time, costing a total of $120 million in 1988.

"It was on September 9th, the fire had threatened the Old Faithful development area. 9th and 10th we had issues with the fire threatening the gateway community of West Yellowstone. The North Fork fire had moved into the Mammoth area. We were concerned not only about the Mammoth developed area but about Gardner, Montana."

Finally relief came on September 11th, the first snows of autumn fell to help dampen the fires. When the fire season ended, 50 fires burned in the park of which 7 were responsible for 95% of the damage totaling 793,000 acres. That's more than one-third of the park.

The fires left the Yellowstone National Park forever changed.

"The forest complex out in the park is much younger today than it was in 1988. And that was one of the contributing factors to 1988, we had broad expanse of growth of very old forest 250 years in age and older."

As a result of the fire, national parks and forests updated their fire management plans and later added stricter guidelines under which they would allow fires to burn naturally.