Yellowstone, 20 years after the fires

KTVQ television in Billings, Montana did a story on the changes in Yellowstone National Park in the 20 years since the huge fires of 1988. At the site there is a link to a video. Below is the transcript:

Yellowstone Park: 20 years of recovery

Posted: May 12, 2008 08:23 AM

Updated: May 12, 2008 11:30 AM

During the summer of 1988, devastating wildfires scorched more than one third of Yellowstone National Park.

The catch phrase in Yellowstone this summer is “Come and see for yourself”.

So that’s exactly what we did as we joined the park’s vegetation expert on a guided tour to get an update on how the park is doing 20 years after the fires.

Driving along the narrow, winding roads of Yellowstone is like visiting the world’s largest Christmas tree farm. Yellowstone National Park vegetation expert Roy Renkin rode shotgun, and we learned more about lodge pole pines that we ever wanted to.

“The trees that you see out here were trees that were born when the cones in the lodge pole pines burn.’ Renkin said, “The fire burned through, and the heat melted the resin on the cones, the scales opened up and the seeds came out.”

But the story of the lodge pole pine is what dominates the Yellowstone landscape these days.

“All these trees out here are roughly the same age…they’re 20 years old.” said Renkin about the forest which was planted by the fires of 1988.

During, and after the 1988 fire storm, many people thought it would take the park hundreds of years to recover. Wyoming Senator Alan Simpson even predicted it would take a 1,000 years.

But just two decades later, Yellowstone may have never looked better.

“People can see for themselves that it’s well on its way of becoming what it was before it burned, but it will take quite a long time to get there,” said Renkin.

Even before the 1988 fires were finally snowed out, park naturalists, biologists and fire scientists were busy collecting samples and data on what they had just witnessed.

Yellowstone National Park Chief of Public Affairs, Al Nash, told the news station, “This was not just a big fire season. This was an extraordinary fire season”.

Ironically the fire storm of 1988 taught us more about forest health and fire behavior than any previous event.

“We were a little short sighted in predicting or forecasting what the park wag going to be like forever more” explained Renkin.

The story of Yellowstone’s recovery is the message park officials are quick to share.

“If the anniversary prompts people to come and investigate those changes, you know, that’s another great reason to come to Yellowstone” says Nash.

Shortly after Yellowstone National Park was established in 1872, it was referred to as “The best idea American ever had”. That’s still the case but you have to see it, smell it, and feel it to believe it.

In September there will be a conference in Jackson, Wyoming on the topic.

Michigan: Prescribed fire in Flat River State Game Area has an interesting article about a prescribed fire in Montcalm County conducted by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. Here is an excerpt:

A wall of flames swept across dried grasslands in southern Montcalm County on a recent weekday, sending skyward a column of smoke visible for several miles.


Winds from the northwest fanned the April 29 blaze, which charred 60 acres in the Flat River State Game Area before dying out.

There were no evacuations or live TV coverage like we saw April 25-26 when an 1,100-acre forest fire near Grayling forced the closing of part of Int. 75. The cause of the Grayling fire remains undetermined.

Not so with the Greenville-area fire. Guys dressed in yellow suits started this fire with a mix of diesel fuel and unleaded gasoline and a handy propane lighter. This particular fire was a controlled burn, staged by the state Department of Natural Resources with assistance from certified firefighters.

It is not unlike what’s taking place now in Texas, Virginia, Colorado and Wisconsin. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service this year will use fire to improve wildlife habitat on more than 400,000 acres.

Anyone interested in creating better habitat for legions of endangered plants, insects and animals should be grateful for such burns. Like a good soaking spring rain, fire has a way of bringing new life to tired land.

The fire near Greenville targeted a tiny pocket of the 10,000-acre Flat River State Game Area, but long-term benefits extend beyond the still-blackened earth. Once used for farming, the land has been overrun with invasive plants, such as spotted knapweed, autumn olive and Chinese elm.

“We’re trying to convert it to oak Savannah,” said Steve Cross, a DNR fire management specialist based in Cadillac who served as fire boss this day. “Fire is an important tool to get us there.”

Are you a deer or turkey hunter? Perhaps a butterfly fanatic? Or is your passion Michigan native wildflowers? If you value any of the above, then you should be fired up about fire.

They all live within the oak savannas of southwest Michigan. The land is sandy and dry and tree growth sparse. What does thrive, however, are native grasses and wildflowers, including little blue stem, coreopsis and wild lupine.

Photos courtesty of


California: Schwarzenegger's fire preparedness

The California governor seems to be concerned about the wildfire potential this summer. In a press conference he was talking about the fire hazards around his home:

“I was not aware of it until an expert from the fire department told me that, ‘This is terrible. This is a fire hazard all around your house — you are living in the middle of it, get rid of this grass, get rid of these shrubs or you are going to be in trouble.’

He issued a lengthy Executive Order that detailed numerous policies that will affect CalFire this year. Here are some of the highlights:

Staff additional fire crews, fire engines, helitack crews, fire bulldozers, equipment and aviation resources as warranted based on fire threat conditions.

Assign a crew of four firefighters to selected CAL FIRE fire engines as warranted based on fire threat conditions.

Provide for immediate availability and utilization of the Supertanker aircraft.

IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that the California National Guard prepare its aviation assets, and pre-position ground support equipment, as appropriate for immediate response to major wildfires and report to OES weekly on the status of all aircraft.

IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that CAL FIRE shall provide educational information to homeowners on defensible space and California Building and Fire Codes ignition-resistant building materials, and shall develop training for defensible space inspection and building ignitability in consultation with the Department of Insurance, OES, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that CAL FIRE shall conduct vigorous defensible space inspections, and shall impose fines and/or liens pursuant to applicable authority if necessary.

IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that to assist landowners to meet their 100-foot defensible space requirements to reduce hazardous vegetation and landscaping, CALFIRE, in consultation with the California Biomass/Biofuel Collaborative, may enter into contracts, agreements, and arrangements for the chipping, hauling, burning, or other methods of disposal of hazardous vegetation removed by landowners as required by Public Resources Code section 4291 and Government Code section 51182.

1,470 piece tool set

Need a tool kit for your fire apparatus? Sears will sell you a 1,470 piece set for $8,599.90 (click on the photo to see it a little larger)

If you have been staring at the photo for more than 45 seconds, you probably already have too many tools. Put DOWN the credit card and back away!

I wonder how long it took to set up the tools for the photograph?

“Frank… that 1/4″ drive, 3/16″ socket needs to be moved back about 1/32” inch. NO, the 3/16″ socket, you ninny!”

Arizona: Fuels and fire behavior advisory

Posted at the Southwest Coordination Center web site:

Subject: Heavy Fine Fuel Loads Have Created the Potential for More Active Fire Behavior

Discussion: Above-average rains during the summers of 2006 and 2007 have created heavier than normal fine fuel loads in southern Arizona, especially in desert areas infested with Buffelgrass (Pennisetum ciliare).

Many grassland areas in southeastern Arizona (above 3,500’) have had above average precipitation the past two summers, creating a heavy crop of grass. Historically, this situation has been followed by a year with large fires.

In addition, buffelgrass continues to increase in desert areas. Buffelgrass is a noxious, non-native grass that is roughly doubling each year in Pima County. Fuel loads can be 5-20 times greater than annual grasses like red brome. Because it is increasing so rapidly, firefighters may find thick grass in places that traditionally had little. Because the fuel load is so heavy, it can generate fireline intensity and flame length much more extreme than usual for the desert. Strategies and tactics normally used on desert fires may not succeed on buffelgrass fires.

Common denominators of tragedy fires are potentially present in deserts and grasslands: relatively small fires or deceptively quiet areas of large fires; relatively light fuels, such as grass, herbs, and light brush; unexpected shift in wind direction or in wind speed; fire responds to topographic conditions and runs uphill.

Concerns to Firefighters and the Public:

• Flame length in grass can exceed 4 feet at almost any time of year, exceeding capability of hand tools. Flame lengths can exceed 8 feet during fire season, exceeding the capability of light engines.

• Grass fuels can be continuous, creating wide flaming fronts.

• Greater fireline intensity can lead to increased torching of shrubs and increased spot fires.

• Anticipate fire whirls because of a combination of fuel loading, terrain, and unstable atmosphere.

• Heavier fuel load raises moisture of extinction, and active burning may occur throughout the night.

• Normally bare, rocky areas and steep, south-facing slopes may have enough grass to carry a fire.

• Washes and trails that formerly served as fuel breaks may no longer be effective.

• Retardant may be less effective at stopping fires where grass is thick.

• Greater fireline intensity and flame length increase threat to structures, power poles, and other improvements.

• Some Wildland Urban Interface areas are infested with buffelgrass. Increased fire behavior increases risk to structures, improvements, and public safety, and there is potential for more human-caused fires.

• Increased fuel loading increases radiant heat output, therefore increasing the risk of thermal burns.

• The outlook for April-June is for above average temperatures and below average rainfall, exacerbating the problem.

Mitigation Measures:

• Indirect tactics may have to be used more often.

• Maintain situational awareness of fuel conditions and fire behavior.

• Safety zone size may need to be larger than usual for the desert. Safety zones may be harder to find.

• Use of Nomex face shrouds helps protect the face and airways.

Area of Concern: Desert


Whole-house fire shelters

It’s incredible what you can find on the Internet.

Many of us are familiar with the practice of wrapping a house that will be threatened by a wildland fire with “fire shelter wrap“… similar to the material used in personal fire shelters–as in the picture below, taken on the Big Fish fire in Colorado in 2002. (It worked, by the way.)

But a number of patents have been issued for devices or systems that would wrap an entire house, theoretically in short order, by one-piece units or systems that would deploy the fire resistant material mechanically.

The unit below, patent #5,860,251, issued January 19, 1999, uses inflatable tubes to erect the flexible fabric over an entire structure. Many large fires are wind-driven. I wonder what the effect of a 50 MPH wind would be on the inflatable structure? It would probably end up in the next county.

The system in the photo below, patent #5,829,200, issued November 3, 1998, uses winches, rollers, and pulleys pre-installed on the house to deploy fire resistant material stored on rolls.

I have no idea if these two systems have ever been developed or manufactured, but you have to admit they are, uh, interesting.