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Contact: Morgan Warthin, (307) 344-2015
As of September 21, 2016, 22 fires (human and lightning-caused) have burned more than 62,000 acres in Yellowstone National Park, making it the highest number of acres burned since the historic 1988 fire season when approximately 800,000 acres burned. Of the 22 fires this year, four (the Maple, Buffalo, Fawn, and Central fires) make up the majority of the acres burned. The Boundary Fire was suppressed at 192 acres and the remaining 17 fires were very small, together totaling only 14.18 acres. Of these 17 fires, 12 were one-tenth of an acre or less in size; four were between one-tenth to one acre; and one was 9 acres.
The park protects human life and developed areas (e.g., roads, buildings, and other infrastructure) from the threat of wildfire. At the same time, fire is allowed to carry out its ecological role on the landscape as much as possible. This season, 11 fires were immediately suppressed because values were at risk. Seven fires were the result of human activity such as campfires not being put out, vehicle operations, or improper cigarette disposal. Fifteen fires were caused by lightning strikes.
The five active fires – Maple, Buffalo, Central, Fawn and Jasper - are being managed to allow fire to perform its natural role in the ecosystem. Wildfire is an essential, natural process. The largest of these fires, the Maple fire, has burned over 45,000 acres.
As fall approaches and brings with it cooler temperatures, shorter days, and some recent precipitation, fire activity slows. Concentrations of down trees in some of these fire areas will burn until snow blankets the Yellowstone plateau. Visitors will see smoke rising within burned areas from time-to-time as wind and warmer weather pass over the area. This will occur until enough moisture accumulates to extinguish the hot spots.
Since 1988, the number of fires in Yellowstone National Park has ranged from one to 78 in a given year. As seen this year, lightning is the major cause of fires within the park. In an average year, the park will see 26 lightning-caused fires. Human-caused fires are still a significant contributor to the fire history within the park.
The public hears much about the large fires that occur in Yellowstone, yet, 75 percent do not reach more than 0.25 acres in size. About 92 percent never burn more than 100 acres. These fires occur in areas where fuel conditions and topography limit the fire’s growth or they go out on their own due to weather. Another factor in keeping the average size of fires low is the quick response by the park’s fire crews to suppress any human-caused fire.
Yellowstone National Park’s management philosophy allows fires to play their natural role in the ecosystem while protecting personal safety, natural and cultural resources, and other significant values within the park. Many changes have occurred within the Yellowstone ecosystem over the
centuries and fire is one of the influences that have made the park what it is today.