CHEYENNE, Wyo. – Firefighters aided by aircraft immediately attacked the first lightning-caused fire in Yellowstone National Park this season, but a park spokesman said Friday there’s been no talk of suppressing every blaze.
“Our bottom line has always been if we believe that there is a threat to people and property, our goal is to protect people and property,” spokesman Al Nash said. “But not every fire in Yellowstone poses a threat.”
The fire was reported Thursday near the park’s northern border in northwest Wyoming. Initially reported at 5 acres, the fire grew to 29 acres by Friday afternoon. No tourist attractions or activities were being affected, Nash said.
Nash said the decision was made to immediately suppress the fire because of the dry conditions in the area, the fire’s location about a mile from Grand Loop Road and the forecast for more dry, windy weather.
“We haven’t had much rain in the past few weeks so our fire conditions are very high,” he said. The park has imposed temporary fire restrictions, which include no campfires in the backcountry. Campfires are permitted only in established fire grates in picnic areas or campgrounds.
Nash said Yellowstone has not altered its policy of reviewing each lightning-caused fire on whether to attack it or let it burn. The park suppresses all human-caused fires, and the park has extinguished four human-caused fires this season.
“A lot of factors go into decisions about our management approach to any given fire,” Nash said. “It’s not a simple cookie-cutter approach.”
“We look at every fire and decide what is the appropriate method for management; sometimes it’s more aggressive and sometimes it’s less aggressive,” he said.
Destructive wildfires have been burning throughout the West this summer, destroying hundreds of homes, killing several people and scorching hundreds of square miles of forest.
Yellowstone, which received global attention in 1988 when fires burned about 36 percent of the park’s 2.2 million acres and threatened tourist areas such as Old Faithful, has seen relatively mild fire seasons in recent years because of ample winter snowpack and no drought conditions.
In 2011, it recorded 21 fires, the largest at 1,800 acres. In 2010, there were 11 fires, the largest 5,500 acres.
“We always have fires. I mean, that’s just the nature of Yellowstone,” Nash said.
But the snowpack this past winter was lower than normal, and there’s been little measureable rain in the last several weeks.
“We certainly are in a different situation than we were this time last year,” Nash said.
The Yellowstone fire is one of several that broke out Thursday in northwestern Wyoming.
A fire on Cody Peak in neighboring Grand Teton National Park may have been started by an illegal backcountry campfire.
Crews were working to contain several other new fires probably caused by lightning in the Bridger-Teton National Forest.