Berry Fire closes south entrance to Yellowstone National Park

Berry Fire

Above: Berry Fire. Undated NPS photo.

(More recent article on the Berry Fire published August 27, 2016.)

(UPDATED at 11:10 a.m. MDT August 24, 2016)

The south entrance into Yellowstone National Park is still closed by the Berry Fire which is being monitored, rather than suppressed, in order to benefit the ecosystem.

On Tuesday the fire spread farther into the Bridger-Teton National Forest after burning out of Grand Teton National Park. The northeast and south sides were the most active where it moved about half a mile beyond the previous perimeter.

Map Berry Fire
The red line was the perimeter of the Berry Fire at 8 p.m. MDT on August 22, 2016. The red dots represent heat detected by a satellite at 4:12 a.m. MDT August 24, 2016. Click to enlarge.

A Type 2 incident management team led by Incident Commander Tim Rodie is now in place. He is assisted by 115 personnel, which is an increase of 77 over the previous day. There are 4 hand crews, 5 engines, and 3 helicopters assigned to the fire.

The incident management team is calling the fire 6,819 acres.

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(UPDATED at 5 p.m. MDT August 23, 2016)

The Berry Fire continued to spread Tuesday into the Bridger-Teton National Forest and the John D. Rockefeller Jr. Memorial Parkway.

US Highway 89/191/287 in Grand Teton National Park is closed at Leeks Marina on the south, and at the South Gate of Yellowstone National Park on the north.

Berry Fire map
Berry Fire. The red line was the perimeter during an 8 p.m. mapping flight August 22. The red shaded areas had the most heat at that time. The red dots represent heat detected by a satellite at 2:16 p.m. MDT August 23, 2016. Click to enlarge.

The weather recorded at the Coyote Meadows weather station 12 miles west of the fire has been fairly moderate for the last 24 hours, showing 2 to 6 mph winds out of the southwest and west and 70 degrees Tuesday afternoon. The exception to the “moderate” weather has been the relative humidity which got up to only 35 percent overnight, and at 5 p.m. Tuesday was 12 percent. That will change Tuesday night when the RH increases to 71 percent, but it will fall to 19 percent Wednesday afternoon. The wind Tuesday night and Wednesday will be out of the northeast and north at 5 to 13 mph. This could influence the fire to move to the south over the next 24 hours.

There are still no plans to put out the fire. Grand Teton National Park explained on Tuesday in a statement:

Fire management goals for the Berry Fire include providing for public and firefighter safety; suppressing fire to protect structures and campgrounds; and monitoring fire growth as it burns in wilderness and contributes to long-term forest health.

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(Originally published at 10:14 a.m. MDT August 23, 2016)

Map Berry Fire
Map of the Berry Fire. The red dots represent heat detected by a satellite at 4:31 a.m. MDT August 23, 2016. The yellow dots were detected within the previous 6 days. Click to enlarge.

The Berry Fire in Grand Teton National Park more than doubled in size Monday, closing Highway 89 which leads to the south entrance of Yellowstone National Park. The highway is closed at Leeks Marina road (south) and the Flagg Ranch (north) and will remain closed indefinitely, a park spokesperson announced Tuesday morning.

Pushed by a 5 to 8 mph southwest wind gusting up to 22 mph, the fire ran out of the park to the northeast crossing the northern tip of Jackson Lake, the Snake River, and Highway 89. It then spread into the John D. Rockefeller Jr. Memorial Parkway and the Bridger-Teton National Forest. Lizard Creek Campground has been evacuated.

Map Berry Fire 3-d
3-D Map of the Berry Fire looking north. The red dots represent heat detected by a satellite at 4:31 a.m. MDT August 23, 2016. The yellow dots were detected within the previous 6 days. Click to enlarge.

The rapid fire spread on Monday added about 3,800 acres, bringing the size of the Berry Fire up to approximately 6,900 acres as of 4:31 a.m. on Tuesday.

Motorists expecting to enter Yellowstone from the popular south entrance will be forced to take long detours stretching for hundreds of miles. They may not be pleased to learn that National Park Service officials decided on July 25 when the Berry Fire started to allow the fire to “enhance the area’s natural resources”, rather than suppress it. 

The moderately strong winds that caused the fire to leave Grand Teton National Park were accompanied Monday by 7 percent relative humidity and 80 degree temperatures.

Grand Teton National Park brought in a Type 3 incident management team for the fire on August 21 when Red Flag Warnings for extreme wildfire danger appeared in the weather forecast. At that time there were 25 personnel assigned. As of August 22 that had increased to 39. Eight fires listed on the August 23 National Situation Report have more than 500 personnel assigned. Five have more than 1,300. However, those fires are larger and are threatening more structures.

Now that the fire has closed Highway 89 and burned outside the park they have ordered a higher level team, a Type 2 team to manage the fire, with Incident Commander Tim Roide. The next level up would be a Type 1 team.

map fires yellowstone grand teton national parks
Wildfires in Yellowstone NP and Grand Teton NP. The red areas represent heat detected by a satellite at 4:31 a.m. MDT August 23, 2016. The yellow areas were detected within the previous 6 days. Click to enlarge.

There are three active fires in Yellowstone National Park, the Maple, Fawn, and Buffalo fires. We covered these earlier. They all continued to spread on Monday. The Maple fire east of West Yellowstone, Montana marched another mile to the north, but was active on most of the perimeter. The park says all roads and businesses remain open, including the east and west entrances and the highway that goes right by the Maple Fire, Highway 20.

Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire. Google+

18 thoughts on “Berry Fire closes south entrance to Yellowstone National Park”

      1. I will rewrite the comment and send it again. I was quite upset after breathing so much smoke.

  1. We have plans to come to the Teton Yellowstone area beginning a week from Saturday. If there is going to be fire and smoke i may cancel my reservations asap. I am not driving up to see smoke covered mountain peaks. Weird to me they would let this fire continue, it is the 100 Anniversary.

    1. Fires are a natural part of maintaining the land and putting them out only introduces more serious problems later on (such as the potential for a truly devastating fire). Nature doesn’t care about the 100th Anniversary!

      That said, these fires aren’t blanketing the entirety of both parks in smoke, just specific areas.

      You should call the NPS and ask them for details – they’ll be able to recommend which areas (if any) to avoid.

  2. Could someone please post a detour route? I am planning on being there and entering throught the South entrance next week….

    1. What direction are you coming from? Your alternate entrances to Yellowstone (if coming generally from the south) are the west (at West Yellowstone, MT) and east (via Cody, WY) entrances. It is also possible that the south entrance could be open by next week.

      1. We have reservations and plans to stay in Jackson Hole and drive up into Yellowstone through the south entrance. I think I need to revise that and plan on the west entrance.

  3. We had been camping on Hebgen Lake since Aug. 8 when the Maple fire started but the smoke got so bad we packed up and came home Monday Aug. 22. It appears that the NPS managers did not pay attention to recent historical events. Seems they didn’t learn the dire consequences from the “let it burn policy” in 1988. Advanced fire suppression should be a viable option when weather conditions are extremely dry like they were then and are now. Once these fires get to a certain size they are impossible to put out until the cooler temperatures and Fall rains and snows come. On the amusing side, there was an electronic sign board coming into West Yellowstone that read “managed fire ahead” “smoke on road”. They hadn’t even tried to put it out. One of their reports on the Berry fire was that they let it burn “to enhance the natural resource”. Talk about more blowing smoke.

    1. Ed – I’m sorry that your time in the Yellowstone area got smoked out, but it sounds like you got in a few weeks before the smoke. Such is life in the Northern Rockies and many of the western States in the summer months.
      It’s important to remember that fire is an integral part of the ecosystems in our area, and that it’s not always compatible with the summer activities we plan. But fire is essential in our Parks and forests. And even fires we don’t want sometimes escape our Initial Attack.
      I spent 31 days on fire assignments in Yellowstone in 1988, and have been on several other fires there since then, as well as making recreational visits. It’s refreshing to look back and see the incredible ecological and vegetation changes that have occurred over the past 28 years, almost all “positive” in human eyes. The animal populations have flourished as well.
      Allowing fires to burn has always been, and will likely continue to be, controversial in some circles. But as a Forester and Fire Manager, I am positive that the good effects of fire on the ground will pay off benefits for generations, in spite of the short term disruption it causes some activities.
      There are several excellent books about the 1988 Yellowstone Fires; my favorite is “Scorched Earth: how the fires of Yellowstone changed America” by Rocky Barker of the Idaho Statesman paper in Boise. A different view is “Fire in Paradise: The Yellowstone Fires and the Politics of Environmentalism” by Micah Morrison.

      1. I understand and agree that the aftermath from a wildfire is good for the overall ecosystem BUT the fact remains that too much devastation from extreme fires in severe dry conditions is not a healthy practice to continue. There needs to be a flexible, common sense approach to make adjustments when the situation warrants it. I was born and raised in WY and MT and lived in Cody, WY during the 1988 fires so I can speak from some first hand experience concerning this issue. The fires were completely out of control when the Forest Service amassed an approximately 3000 person fire camp in Sunlight Basin long after it was too late to stop or even make a dent in this horrendous situation. The only reason for the show was propaganda photo-ops for the TV cameras. In this exteme case, It would have made a lot more sense to spend that huge amount of money to fight the fires in the early stages. This year there was the Hunter Peak fire in the same general location and the Forest Service, obviously having learned a valuable lesson from 88, went to work and put it out early. Why did the NPS managers not see the error of their ways on this issue and react accordingly on the Maple fire? Just wondering.

  4. We learned in an “eco-tour” last year that fire is the way that forests in dry areas return nutrients to the soil, which is why the Forest and Park services will let them burn. That area is so much drier than we are back east, where moisture and rot do the work of nutrient replenishment, that fires need to happen. Inconvenient? Yep, but necessary.

  5. We were in Yellowstone in 1984 and I saw how beautiful and green everything was and when the fires came in 1988 that got so close to “old Faithful” I was very worried that it would never be the same, but when I went back 3 years later it looked even greener and as beautiful as it was before the fire, so I do think that the forest needs the fires. It is essential to the ecosystem . Just don’t ever let it get that close to “Old Faithful Inn” again.

  6. Are the fires still burning today, Aug 26? Is headwaterslodge at flagg ranch still evacuated? Is the south ent rd to Yellowstone still closed? Thanks. Lynne

  7. I read a map on the fires but do not understand it. It read what campgrounds were closed but only by a letter say C1,C2, etc.. is there a way to find the 4 campgrounds we have made reservations at if they are open? Victor, Idaho. Cody KOA, Buffalo . Do they also give alternative detours or large areas to turn 55 feet around if we are headed a way and fire blocks ahead to next campsite. Many thanks a Easterner.

    1. Susie, those sound like private campgrounds outside the park; best to call them directly to see if they’re open. The letter-number campsites are apparently NPS campsites inside the park.

      Here’s a map of Yellowstone road closures; supposedly its keep current.

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