A lightning-caused fire in the northeastern area of Yellowstone National Park has grown to 1,200 acres and is utilizing 80 personnel. This fire, which was nearly extinguished by natural conditions on Wednesday, Sept. 14, is now an active threat to visitors and structures.
At sunrise, a thick blanket of haze spread across the northern YNP area extending outside its boundaries well into Montana. Mornings usually have less wind and higher dew-points, and will create a typical inversion. These inversions will trap smoke low into the valleys. However, it was the distance and the direction of the thick haze that was surprising.
Near the fire, signs on both sides of the Grand Loop Highway read “Managed Wildfire Do Not Report.” A parking lot entrance near Antelope Creek is blocked off with orange safety cones. Several fire vehicles and a few temporary structures can be seen inside. Further up the road, a vehicle pullout near Dunraven Trailhead has some fire information set up for visitors to read.
A short drive to the parking lot of Dunraven Trailhead should provide for a better view of the fire. The washboard road winds through a desolate area of charred trees with bone-white tips, and provides us an eerie reminder of a history that should never repeat itself. Yet the thick smoke in the distance brings us back into the potential present crisis. Unfortunately, the view from up top is also limited, as the smoke hovers thickly in the distance. However, as if on cue, the wind picks up and clears the valley within a few moments.
Billowing smoke is now clearly visible from the many burn points. In the background, the charred hills are still smoldering. Within a brief 20-minute drive to the peak, the grey smoke entwined with black ribbons are steadily increasing. Soon, flames are visible from the highway as the fire breaches the hill.
The beating sounds of a helicopter pierce the wind-blown stillness as it appears in the distance. A second one soon joins the procession as they start to work against the beast. Watching a wildfire is very mesmerizing. Thirty minutes with cameras and binoculars pass as if a brief moment in time. Between the acrid smoke and tears, the drive back down the hill is painful. Unfortunately, a few photos and words cannot describe the first-hand experience.
Wildfires in Yellowstone, especially those that could have been extinguished days prior without the financial and resource expenses, create more questions than answers. The balance of natural regeneration and the cost to manage a fire is not present in this case. How many millions of dollars of taxpayer money are being spent to take care of something that could have been stopped four days ago? Good question.