Is fire the new normal in the American West?

August 9, 2018 by Kelly April Tyrrell, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Credit: CC0 Public Domain

The summer of 1988 was unusually hot, dry and windy in the American West, and 30 years ago this year, those conditions combined at Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming to create what were among the largest and most severe fires the park had ever seen.

The Yellowstone Fires of 1988 ultimately burned more than 1 million acres of forestland in and around the park. But ever-resilient and even reliant on fire, the forests recovered.

However, those unusually hot, dry conditions are now a normal feature of the climate of the West and fires burn with more frequency and severity than ever before. The 1988 fires were a 100- to 300-year event, but several large, hot fires have burned there since. A scan of today's headlines shows just how common, destructive and sometimes tragic these fires have become.

Monica Turner, a University of Wisconsin–Madison professor of , was at Yellowstone in the immediate aftermath of the 1988 fires to study and closely document the forests' recovery. She has spent the last three decades of her career there, and in places like Grand Teton National Park, to better understand the nature of forests and fire. She and her research team and colleagues are examining how the patterns of fire and recovery are changing, particularly as the climate warms and drought becomes more common. They want to know: What does this mean for the forests we treasure?

Credit: University of Wisconsin-Madison

Explore further: Team studies fires this year in '88 Yellowstone burn areas

Related Stories

Team studies fires this year in '88 Yellowstone burn areas

September 5, 2016

Nearly three decades ago, huge wildfires burned about a third of Yellowstone National Park. The park has seen wildfires every year since, but the forests of new trees that grew in the scars of those 1988 fires have helped ...

Image: Fires in Idaho and Wyoming

August 24, 2016

Wildfires have been plaguing the western part of the United States for the summer season and no state seems to be without incident.  Both Idaho and Wyoming have their share of wildfires as well.  The Pioneer and Rough Fires ...

Fires in Australia pop up in places already burned

September 22, 2017

Fires that span across the Northern Territory and Western Australia appear to have broken out in areas that have already been burned in previous fires. Areas that sport "burn scars", those areas that are a darker, almost ...

Recommended for you

Coffee-based colloids for direct solar absorption

March 22, 2019

Solar energy is one of the most promising resources to help reduce fossil fuel consumption and mitigate greenhouse gas emissions to power a sustainable future. Devices presently in use to convert solar energy into thermal ...

NASA instruments image fireball over Bering Sea

March 22, 2019

On Dec. 18, 2018, a large "fireball—the term used for exceptionally bright meteors that are visible over a wide area—exploded about 16 miles (26 kilometers) above the Bering Sea. The explosion unleashed an estimated 173 ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.