Yellowstone’s fire history helps crews prepare for this season

YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK – With temperatures predicted to hit the 90s and a long dry spell on the way, Yellowstone National Park is gearing up for fire season.

Fire is an important part of reality in Yellowstone National Park, much like the grizzly bear and the bison.

Taking a look at the land throughout the park, you can see evidence of fire. Each fire that starts in the park, whether it’s man-made or it’s natural, is studied, and that information and data were used for this year’s fire predictions.

“We definitely use all the numbers from the past to determine where we’re at and where we’re going for the fire season,” said Fire Ecologist Becky Smith.

“And really, that’s laid the groundwork for how we can manage fire in the park,” added Fire Management Officer John Cataldo. “Now, you know one of the first things we did last year with the Maple fire was to bring in a specialized fire behavior assessment team, to supplement our ability to start putting plots out there and photo points, and to shoot video of the fire actually moving through that. So, cameras that are highly insulated and we literally set ’em out in front of the Maple Fire and let it burn right over and through them, and then recovered the tape afterward.

“Just being able to have that equipment there on site, and see for ourselves how the fire was interacting with the landscape while it was moving through, that really helps tell the story.”

The pair feels confident that they now have a better idea of what fire is going to do.

“Especially based on, you know, if we look at our fire history map and and determine where the start is based on our fire history map,” said Smith. “Then we bring into account moisture, I would say the northeast is prime to burn at any moment. The Central Plateau and the Muir Plateau (are) a very good location for fire.”

Officials say about 60 percent of the fires in the park is naturally caused. And those fires are not fought, depending on their location and the fuels.

Cataldo says ideally they’d like to see about five, preferably in one area.

What’ll happen this year? That’s still to be determined. Yellowstone fire officials say that last year, for the first time, significant parts of new forests that have grown up in the scars of the 1988 blaze were burned once again. They say the fact that these young forests burned so widely came as something of a surprise.

MTN’s Chet Layman