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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