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Jackson Hole, WY News

Thirty years after the 1988 Yellowstone fires, living in an era when big fires are the new normal

What seemed then to be exceptional now is expected.

1988 Yellowstone Fires

Four convection columns of smoke rose more than 20,000 feet into the air as high winds whipped across eerily empty walkways around Old Faithful Inn.

“In all directions that we looked, it looked like the world was coming to an end,” Joan Anzelmo recalled.

Joan Anzelmo

Joan Anzelmo, former public affairs spokeswoman for Yellowstone National Park, was at Old Faithful during the firestorms of 1988 and watched flames approach from all sides. “It looked like the world was coming to an end,” she said.

1988 Yellowstone fires

Heavy smoke and flames billow from mature lodgpole pine forests in 1988 as the Clover-Mist Complex of wilfire burns the Mirror Plateau. Conditions in Yellowstone in 1988 were ripe for big fires: below-average moisture in the spring, hot, dry conditions in early summer and forests that hadn’t burned in 100 years or more.

Michael Kodas

Michael Kodas is an environmental journalist and the author of the non-fiction tome, “Megafire: The Race to Extinguish a Deadly Epidemic of Flame.”

1988 Yellowstone fires

Fire approaches the Snake River as seen from Flagg Ranch during the summer of 1988.

Joan Anzelmo 1988

Yellowstone Public Affairs specialist Joan Anzelmo at the Canyon area during the epic 1988 fire season. As the spokesperson for the park Anzelmo was charged with the daily task of updating the media on firefighting efforts and of areas burned by wildfire.

1988 Yellowstone fires

The mosaic burn pattern around the Upper Geyser Basin is most striking from the air in this image from July 1989.

Contact Frederica Kolwey at

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(2) comments

Jay Jones

Nary a mention of beetle kill, which I recall was bad in the decade prior. Everyone knew the forest was going to burn. There was some post and pole logging outside the park. look at all the dead trees in the pics. They show as silver but around 1980 the needles were still on the trees and brown.


Ken Chison

This article leaves out how environmentalists have shut down logging over the years. Logging was a big part of the picture to help maintain healthy forests and control these Burns. Everything with a fire is natural in nature. Where Yellowstone burned in the 80s it is the healthiest looking Forest of any place in Yellowstone. The fires did it justice and were needed as well as other places. Let er burn policy is by far the best practice. If people build structures in the forest, they should just understand that there's a possibility that they're going to burn. Mother Nature knows what she's doing and we need to just let her do what needs to be done.

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