YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK – The fire danger has been raised to “high” for the first time this season in Yellowstone National Park.
A wide array of factors — involving everything from weather to the condition of the forest — has prompted officials to hike the fire danger.
Those factors are not always easy to interpret. For example, fire managers didn’t think it was possible for the 2016 Maple fire to ignite because it was an area that had already burned in 1988.
“For us that was a big moment,” fire manager John Cataldo said.
That’s because Cataldo and others thought the burned over area from 1988 was a barrier to fire, not conduit for fire, “we had to start looking at the ’88 fire through a different lens.”
That lens needed to account for big, dead trees littering the forest floor, “and once they get below ten percent fuel moisture, that’s when we see fires that can move up to five miles in a day,” Cataldo explained.
That’s what drove the 2016 Maple fire, inside the area devastated by the 1988 fire. But what about this year?
“The snowpack was coming off earlier and also faster this year,” said fire ecologist Becky Smith. And that makes for a longer fire season. But the spring was wetter than usual, so all in all what’s the outlook?
“Currently we believe that we will have average fire potential in the park this year,” Smith told MTN News.
That’s a lot different than the extreme conditions in 2016 that claimed nearly 71,000 acres. But there is still a danger, so the park is working hard to protect its 2,000 structures.
“I’d say that well over half of our structures are not in a fire-wise condition that I would prefer,” Cataldo said. Park managers are trying to get caught up, but the park ecosystem actually fights that effort.
“We’ve systematically been treating developed areas around the park for decades, but as you’re treating one, another one’s putting on biomass and new seedlings are coming up,” Cataldo said.
Fire managers in Yellowstone National Park are doing what they can to prepare for this season — keeping a close eye on burned-over areas and freshly forested areas as well.
They’re also keeping a close eye on any small fires that start in case they start to grow rapidly. But it’s just like Mother Nature, very unpredictable.
Historically, the most dangerous time for fires in Yellowstone National Park is in mid-August.
Reporting by John Sherer for MTN News