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The summer of 1988 was unusually dry in the western United States. Dry cold fronts brought high wind and lightning but no rain. Along with high temperatures, these conditions created extreme fire danger.

Yellowstone National Park encompasses about 2,221,800 total acres. By mid-July 1988, 8,500 acres had burned in greater Yellowstone. That’s not too unusual. But by the end of July, the dry conditions were quickly making the fires uncontrollable, and the fires grew to about 99,000 acres. On August 20, strong winds increased the size of the fires and 150,000 acres burned on that one day. The fires did not stop until snow came in September. In total, more than 793,000 acres, or 36 percent of the park, burned.

Yellowstone is representative of temperate mountain ecosystems throughout western North America. What is learned from the massive 1988 fires and subsequent recovery of these ecosystems can be applied to other regions.

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Sep. 22, 1987, Landsat 5 (path/row 38/29) — Yellowstone National Park, USA
Aug. 23, 1988, Landsat 5 (path/row 38/29) — Yellowstone National Park, USA
Oct. 10, 1988, Landsat 5 (path/row 38/29) — Yellowstone National Park, USA
Oct. 4, 2003, Landsat 5 (path/row 38/29) — Yellowstone National Park, USA
Sep. 24, 2011, Landsat 5 (path/row 38/29) — Yellowstone National Park, USA
Aug. 20, 2016, Landsat 8 (path/row 38/29) — Yellowstone National Park, USA
Aug. 10, 2018, Landsat 8 (path/row 38/29) — Yellowstone National Park, USA
Aug. 15, 2020, Landsat 5 (path/row 38/29) — Yellowstone National Park, USA

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References (Earthshot Overview/Parent Only)

Alexander, M.E., 2009, The 1988 Fires of Yellowstone and Beyond as a Wildland Fire Behavior Case Study: USDA Forest Service, Wildland Fire Lessons Learned Center, Tuscon, AZ, 30 p. (Available online at https://www.frames.gov/rcs/10000/10924.html.)

McEneaney, T., 2004, Yellowstone Bird Reports: National Park Service, Yellowstone Center for Resources, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming. (Available online at http://www.nps.gov/yell/naturescience/birdreports.htm.)

NASA, 2011, Burn Recovery in Yellowstone: NASA Earth Observatory, available at http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/Features/WorldOfChange/yellowstone.php. (Accessed August 12, 2014.)

National Park Service, 2008, The Yellowstone Fires of 1988: National Park Service, available at https://www.nps.gov/yell/learn/nature/upload/firesupplement.pdf. (Accessed August 12, 2014.)

National Park Service, [n.d.], Yellowstone—Fire Management: National Park Service, accessed April 30, 2018, at https://www.nps.gov/yell/learn/management/firemanagement.htm.

National Park Service, [n.d.], Yellowstone—Superintendent’s Compendium: National Park Service, accessed April 30, 2018, at https://www.nps.gov/yell/learn/management/compendium.htm.

Riebeek, H., 2012, Fire and the Future of Yellowstone: NASA Earth Observatory, available at http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/IOTD/view.php?id=76837. (Accessed August 12, 2014.)

Riebeek, H., 2009, Yellowstone Recovers from 1988 Fires: NASA Earth Observatory, available at http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/IOTD/view.php?id=39125. (Accessed August 12, 2014.)

Reinhart, K.W., 2008, Yellowstone’s Rebirth by Fire—Rising from the Ashes of the 1988 Wildfires: Helena, MT, Farcountry Press, 108 p.

Romme, W.H., Boyce, M.S., Gresswell, R., Merrill, E.H., Minshall, G.W., Whitlock, C., and Turner, M.G., 2011, Twenty years after the 1988 Yellowstone fires—lessons about disturbance and ecosystems: Ecosystems, v. 14, no. 7, p. 1196–1215.

Turner, M., 2018, Here’s how forests rebounded from Yellowstone’s epic 1988 fires—and why that could be harder in the future: The Conversation, accessed October 25, 2018, at https://theconversation.com/heres-how-forests-rebounded-from-yellowstones-epic-1988-fires-and-why-that-could-be-harder-in-the-future-101495.

Wallace, L.L., Ed., 2004, After the Fires—The Ecology of Change in Yellowstone National Park, New Haven, Yale University Press, 390 p.

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