Fear of fire
Yellowstone National Park is a natural
treasure that spans 2,219,789 acres of worldliness. (National Park Services,
2017) It hosts a number of natural spectacles such as, 290 waterfalls and 500
active geysers including Old Faithfull geyser (National Park Services, 2017).
However, this park is not without its dangers. One of the deadliest dangers
became apparent in the summer of 1988 when the public feared that we would lose
this park forever. As massive fires started in and around the part burning
thousands of acres. Throughout mid-July to September, firefighters and the army
would fight this blasé to little success. Finally, on the first winter snow the
fire would dwindle and die. Yellowstone Park has an interesting relationship
with fire as seen history, the people involved and the lessons learned.
Fires is a regular occurrence in
Yellowstone and has been for thousands of years. Native Americas embraced fire
as part of their lives. Before 1988, Dr. William Romme, a fire ecologist, and
Dr. Don Despain, a plant ecologist, said that many small fires happen and that
every 200-400 years a big fire will happen. (Wipple). Since the park was established in 1872, all
fires were fought. Fighting forest fires was not effective till after WWII
aerial firefighting technology came in. (Rothman;
Fifer & Orr, 2013). Ecologist discovered that in areas that fire suppressed,
the density of the forest increased as well of build of fuel (Fifer & Orr,
2013). As a result, in 1972 there was a policy changed to allow naturally
started fires to burn. Only natural fires that were considered a threat to
lives, property, cultural sites, or endangered species were put out. In that
time frame, 235 fires were allowed to burn naturally and all were extinguished
naturally (Fifer & Orr, 2013).
There were three factors that made the fire
so hard to fight, the drought, the forest debris and the wind. In the start of the
summer park lightning strikes started 20 fires; 11 burned themselves out, as a
result park managers kept to the standard policy (Wipple).
However, this time it would be different with the amount of dry debris the fire
would have as fuel. By July 15, visitors
and the news media were noticing smoke. (Wipple)
high winds made the fire stronger and more difficult to predict (Fifer &
Orr, 2013). By July 21, the new policy by the park was to put out all
fires (Wipple). All through late August and of September roads are closed
within the park and camps and towns nearby are evacuated (National Park Service, 2008). On August 20, also known
as black Sunday, the fire became out of control (Fifer & Orr, 2013). On August 22, military troops arrived to
relive firefighters (National Park Service, 2008).
On September 11, snow fell on Yellowstone and fire died. (Wipple). In that
summer, there were 248 separate fires started that where triggered by lightning
and people (Stone, 1998).
The people’s view of fires was often misinformed.
The American people viewed wildfires as dangerous and destructive for the
environment. (Fifer & Orr, 2013). One big misconception that people had was
that fire can be controlled by human beings. (National park Service, 2008) (Fifer
& Orr, 2013). It did not help that the media was often poorly informed and
contradictory (Wipple). The media reported that
fires were being allowed to burn even when the policy had changed on July 21 (Wipple). The People demanded action from the
government. President Reagan and Wyoming politicians all criticizing the fire
policy. Blame was put on Bob Barbee the superintendent of Yellowstone for not
doing enough (Wipple). It was also accepted that Yellowstone
wouldn’t recover for hundreds of years (Wipple).
Senator Alan Simpson of Wyoming said it would take 1000 years to recover.
The firefighters worked hard to eliminate
the fires as the media looked on. They were 25,000 fire fighters were involved
and 4,000 militaries (Franke,200) (Fifer & Orr,
2013). Hundreds of miles of fire lines were constructed, but the fires
jumped barriers even roads and rivers (Wipple).
They could not fight the fire head on without risking lives. Even though the
they fought hard the fire was extremely had to control and it was only by luck and
hard work that more of the park’s buildings was not destroyed.
The Secretaries of Agriculture and the
Interior put together a Fire Management Policy review team (Fifer & Orr,
2013). There final review was that the original Policy necessity for a heathy
ecosystem, but that the park needed to put a greater enfaces on property and
visitations safety (Fifer & Orr, 2013). The policy recommendations were put
in place in
Sciences came in after the fire to study
the effects of the fire on the ecosystem, and learned how fire effects it. Over
the next 20 years’ people have studied of growth of plants. It was found that the
fire has trigged growth in aspen trees from roots (Stone, ). Loggepole pine
trees could be seen growing just 5 years after the fire (National Park
The impact on Yellowstone was not as huge
as it could have been. There was $120 million dollars spent in fighting the
fire and it affected 793, 880 acres (National Park Service, 2008). Luckily
there was no firefighters died but, there were two fire-related deaths outside
the park (Wipple). 67 National Park Service
buildings. The wildlife was not as badly affected as what was feared. The
animals have natural ways of protecting themselves and were not stressed by the
fire. Only 300 large mammals perished as a direct result of the fire (National
Park Service, 2008).
Not everything was lost. (Fifer & Orr, 2013, P.650). The animals have a natural
resistance to survival the smoke and the fire. The trees and plants have a
renewal system. The next spring of that year flowers bloomed and plants
flourished. Even the visitors returned attracted to the fireweed flowers that
had grown where the fire had been. In 1989, 2,600,000 people came (National Park Service, 2008).
several lessons learned after this disaster. One is the role of the media. The
media affects the view of the public and, therefore affects how policy are
made. If the media is misinformed about a something it can put blame on the
wrong person. Second, is the that ecological process has a way of surviving and
even benefiting of fire. Finally, is that human lives are still in danger from
fire. Especially since now when people are building near forest and in recent
years’ fires have been increasing (National Park Service, 2008; Whipple).
1988 fire changed many of the public’s understanding of fire. I have talked about the history, the
people involved and the lessons learned from Yellowstone. Yellowstone has a
long history of fire happening. The park officials, firemen, the media are only some of the people
that were involved during and after the fire. There were many lessons to be learned but
maybe the most imported is to lessen to the facts.