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smoke from maple fire

Team Researching Activity in 1988 Yellowstone Fire Scars

With Yellowstone’s fire season still in full swing, researchers are looking on the bright side of things.

Indeed, several fires, most prominently the Maple Fire outside West Yellowstone, are burning in “scars” left behind by the 1988 fires. According to the Bozeman Daily Chronicle, fires like Maple afford researchers an opportunity to understand how the fire scars influence fire movement. What’s especially striking is the fact that, in previous years, fires haven’t burnt well in 1988 fire scars. From the Chronicle:

“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.

Once data are gathered from the instruments, the team will provide a summary of its findings to Yellowstone, said Carol Ewell, a team squad leader. She said it’s unclear when the summary will be completed because the fires are still burning and research is still being gathered.

Ewell added that forest and park managers have a better understanding of fire activity—rooted in Yellowstone fire management’s beginnings as a war of sorts against the elements, supplemented with lessons learned from the 1988 fires and similar blazes. Researchers understand, for instance, that fires help renew habitat for both plants and animals.

About Sean Reichard

Sean Reichard is the editor of Yellowstone Insider and author of Yellowstone Insider For Families 2017.

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