By late September, as the fires were diminishing, plans were already underway in Yellowstone to develop comprehensive programs for all aspects of post-fire response. These included replacing, rehabilitating, or repairing damaged buildings, power lines, fire lines, trails, campsites, and other facilities. Education rangers developed programs to interpret the fires and their effects for visitors and for the general public. Other education specialists developed indoor and outdoor exhibits, publications, and trails to help visitors learn about these historic fires. The park also cooperated with other agencies and state and local governments in promoting the economic recovery of communities near the park that were affected by the fires.
Scientists wanted to monitor the ecological processes following these major fires. The National Park Service cooperated with other agencies and independent researchers and institutions in developing comprehensive research directions for this unparalleled scientific opportunity. Observations actually began while the fires were still burning.
Burning at a variety of intensities, the fires killed many lodgepole pines and other trees, but did not kill most other plants; they merely burned the tops, leaving roots to regenerate. Temperatures high enough to kill deep roots occurred in less than 0.1% of the park. Only under logs and in deep litter accumulations, where the fire was able to burn for several hours, did lethal heat penetrate more deeply into the soil. Where water was available, new plant growth began within a few days. In dry soils, the rhizomes, bulbs, seeds, and other reproductive tissues had to wait until soil moisture was replenished the following spring.
Though animal movements were sometimes affected dramatically by the passage of fires, relatively few animals died. However, portions of the northern range burned, which affected winter survival of grazing animals when coupled with summer drought conditions. In this and many other ways, fires dramatically altered the habitat and food production of Yellowstone for the short term.
The fires of 1988 created a landscape of burns, partial burns, and unburned areas—called a mosaic. A mosaic provides natural firebreaks and sustains a greater variety of plant and animal species. Vegetation capable of sustaining another major fire will be rare for decades, except in extraordinary situations.