Has Yellowstone “recovered” from the 1988 wildfires?

Yellowstone National Park 1988 wildfires
Yellowstone National Park fires in 1988. NPS.

We often hear about an area “recovering” from a wildfire. This implies that fire is unfortunate and unwelcome, a sentiment probably based on an instinctive fear. And it should go without saying — fires that burn structures or humans fit that description.

But vegetation fires in remote areas should be evaluated with different criteria. Yes, a fire can drastically change the appearance of a landscape. Most people visiting national parks, for example, would prefer to take pictures of a mature green forest than a recently burned hillside that is beginning a new fire return cycle. But those two ends of the cycle and everything in between are natural.

In 1988 fires in Yellowstone National Park caused mostly by lightning burned 793,880 acres, 36 percent of the park, during windy weather following a dry spring and summer. Today I saw an article that was focused on to what degree the vegetation had “recovered” from those fires 30 years ago. The emphasis was how much the landscape looked like it did before the fires of 1988. One might say that a lodgepole forest that burned at the end of its 50 to 300 year fire return interval had recovered the day after the embers cooled.

The photo below taken in 2003 in Yellowstone National Park in an area that burned in 1988 shows the regrowth of the forest in just 15 years.

yellowstone, thermal feature, trees,
Steam rises from a new Yellowstone National Park thermal feature in an area burned 15 years after the 1988 fires. The brown trees were killed by the sudden development of the high temperatures. Photo by Bill Gabbert, September 14, 2003.

Below are satellite photos provided by the US Geological Survey of the Yellowstone area taken a year before, just after, and 30 years after the 1988 fires. The red areas are not the actual color of the vegetation, but represent the areas where the fires burned, as detected by shortwave infrared, near-infrared, and visible green sensors on a satellite. As the vegetation changes, light green areas start replacing the red and pink from the burn scar.

Yellowstone National Park 1988 wildfires
September 22, 1987

Continue reading “Has Yellowstone “recovered” from the 1988 wildfires?”

Fire studies at Yosemite and Yellowstone National Parks

Above: A bison in Yellowstone National Park, May 25, 2014. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

Two recent and ongoing studies at the two big “Y” parks are yielding results about fire behavior and the effects of naturally occurring fire. The excerpts below are both from Phys.org.

The first is about allowing wildfires to burn at Yosemite National Park, rather than suppressing them:

An unprecedented 40-year experiment in a 40,000-acre valley of Yosemite National Park strongly supports the idea that managing fire, rather than suppressing it, makes wilderness areas more resilient to fire, with the added benefit of increased water availability and resistance to drought.

After a three-year, on-the-ground assessment of the park’s Illilouette Creek basin, University of California, Berkeley researchers concluded that a strategy dating to 1973 of managing wildfires with minimal suppression and almost no preemptive, so-called prescribed burns has created a landscape more resistant to catastrophic fire, with more diverse vegetation and forest structure and increased water storage, mostly in the form of meadows in areas cleared by fires.

“When fire is not suppressed, you get all these benefits: increased stream flow, increased downstream water availability, increased soil moisture, which improves habitat for the plants within the watershed. And it increases the drought resistance of the remaining trees and also increases the fire resilience because you have created these natural firebreaks,” said Gabrielle Boisramé, a graduate student in UC Berkeley’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering and first author of the study…

The next article covers a study into the fire behavior of this summer’s fires that spread through the footprints of the 1988 fires in Yellowstone National Park.

…”Largely up until this point, fire has not necessarily carried well through the ’88 fire scars,” Yellowstone fire ecologist Becky Smith said. “I mean, it definitely has before, but it usually takes very specific conditions, like high winds or a very specific fuel bed. But this year, we’re definitely seeing it burn much more readily in the ’88 fire scars.”

The park has called in a special federal team that studies fire behavior to find out why.

“We’re trying to use it as a good learning opportunity to try and really narrow our focus on how and when the ’88 fire scars will burn,” Smith said. The 1988 wildfires burned 36 percent of the park.

It’s the first time Yellowstone has used the special team’s services, she said.

The 13-member team is studying two fires burning in the 1988 fire scar. It has deployed special heat-resistant equipment with sensors, cameras and other instruments to measure things like temperature and wind where the fires are burning…

Yellowstone’s Maple Fire slowed by rain and cool weather

Above: Rainbow over the Maple Fire at 9:50 Monday morning, September 5, 2016, as seen from West Yellowstone, MT. Photo by Ray Mines.

Rain on Sunday and Monday accompanied by cool weather has slowed the spread of the Maple Fire that has come within three miles of West Yellowstone, Montana. Since it started on August 8 it has burned 40,443 acres just north of the west entrance road, Highway 20/191.

The small amount of rain on Sunday was followed by about 0.15″ Monday, as recorded at the weather station east of the fire at Madison Junction.

Ray Mines, who took the photo above from the Incident Command Post at West Yellowstone, said it was 34 degrees Monday morning with a wind chill of 28.

Satellites have not been able to find any large heat sources over the fires in the park for the last couple of days. There are no doubt many small ones that the sensors 200 miles overhead can’t detect. But drier weather later in the week will bring the potential for the fire to become more active.

map Maple fire
The red line was the perimeter of the Maple Fire at 9 p.m. MDT Sept 2, 2016. The white line was the perimeter on August 29.

About 200 lightning strikes occurred in the eastern part of Yellowstone Sunday, resulting in at least two new fire starts. The Petrified Fire was near the Petrified Tree west of Tower Junction in a fire suppression zone. Firefighters extinguished the single-tree fire with the help of helicopter water drops. Firefighters are monitoring the one-tenth acre Jasper Fire east of Tower Junction near Specimen Ridge.

South entrance to Yellowstone opens after being closed by the Berry Fire

The Maple Fire in Yellowstone spreads closer to West Yellowstone and Hwy. 191


The video above was uploaded Monday August 29 the day before Highway 89 opened.

The south entrance to Yellowstone National Park opened Tuesday morning after having been closed for the last week after the Berry Fire burned across U.S. Highway 89 at the north end of Jackson Lake in Grand Teton National Park.

The fire was active Monday on the northeast, south, and west sides and has burned about 13,200 acres. A large smoke column actually assisted firefighters working on the east side of the highway Monday by shading the fire on that side of the lake, slowing the spread.

Fires Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks
Fires in Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks, August 30, 2016. The green lines are the boundaries of the two parks. The white line is the Wyoming/Montana boundary.

A new fire in Yellowstone National Park is named the Central Fire, probably because it is in the center of the park. It is 9 miles west of the Lake developed area and 2 miles south of Hayden Valley. The fire is just northwest of the 2015 Spruce fire which is expected to block the fire’s growth to the east. Currently it is burning in mature lodgepole pine.

The Maple Fire has spread considerably over the last several days and is within about 2 miles of Highway 191 north of West Yellowstone, Montana, and about 3.5 miles from the community. It has crossed from Wyoming into Montana and on the south side is burning along the Madison River very close to the West Entrance Road (Highway 20). It has reached the east side of the Boundary Fire that spread on its west side to within a quarter mile of Highway 191.

The staff at Yellowstone wants visitors to know that all entrances and roads within the park are open. Visitor facilities and businesses in the park and surrounding communities are not impacted by the fires and remain open.

The Buffalo Fire is in the north-central part of Yellowstone about 2 miles north of the Northeast Entrance Road (Highway 212). The fire has burned about 4,000 acres, a few of which may be just across the state line in Montana.


Above: the Maple Fire burns along the Madison River in Yellowstone National Park August 29, 2016. Video by Jeremy Weber of the West Yellowstone News.

South entrance to Yellowstone still closed by Berry Fire

The Berry Fire in Grand Teton National Park continues to spread to the east and south.

Above: Berry fire, as seen from Leeks Marina. Undated/uncredited InciWeb photo.

The National Park Service said Saturday morning that US Highway 89 and the south entrance into Yellowstone National Park will be continue to be closed through this weekend. On Saturday even firefighter traffic was limited through the area due to fire activity and hazards from falling trees.

During the previous two days a moist air mass brought higher humidities to the fire area, and even a very small amount of rain fell in locations to the east. That changes today, Saturday, with a Red Flag Warning which covers much of Wyoming, introducing higher temperatures and lower humidities.

3-D map of the Berry Fire
3-D map of the Berry Fire. Data from 1 a.m. MDT August 27, 2016. Click to enlarge.

Since Tuesday the fire has grown along most of the perimeter, especially on the north, east, and south sides, and now covers 12,378 acres according to the NPS. From east to west it is 7 miles wide and it stretches for almost 4 miles along the west shore of Jackson Lake.

The National Park Service is not aggressively suppressing the fire, but is managing it for ecological benefits.

Resources assigned to the Berry Fire include 351 personnel, 6 hand crews, 18 engines, and 5 helicopters.

Berry Fire
Filling an engine from a lake on the Berry Fire. Undated/uncredited InciWeb photo.

Both Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks are open for visitors, but anyone planning to enter Yellowstone from the south on US Highway 89 will have to take a very lengthy detour. All other entrances into Yellowstone are open, as are all of the roads in that park.

Yellowstone’s 30,309-acre Maple Fire a few miles east of West Yellowstone, Montana, has not crossed US Highway 20, also known as the West Entrance Road. There are at least two other significant fires in Yellowstone, the 3,024-acre Buffalo Fire near the north boundary, and the 1,922-acre Fawn Fire in the northwest corner. These fires are not impacting visitors except for the smoke being created that degrades visibility of the beautiful landscape.

map Fires in Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks
Fires in Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks, August. 27, 2016. Click to enlarge.

Our other articles on these fires in Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks.

Berry Fire closes south entrance to Yellowstone National Park

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.

****

(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.

****

(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.