Yellowstone Fire Damage Much Less Than Estimated
The government’s latest analysis of wildfires at Yellowstone National Park last summer shows that about 706,000 acres burned, a considerable swath of destruction but a far smaller total than estimates widely cited when the fires were raging.
The new figures, based on satellite pictures assessed this week, indicate that about 32% of the 2.2-million-acre park was burned.
Maps and national news reports last summer regularly showed that the fires had ravaged far more than half of the park. Those reports fueled political heat about the National Park Service’s initial decision to heed its “let burn” policy toward most of the park fires.
Stan Tixier of the Forest Service said the new destruction estimates are far below the figures cited last summer because “that’s the nature of forest fire. All the maps and reports were talking about the outer perimeter of the fire areas; but within the perimeter, you had big areas that weren’t touched by any fire.”
Although the impact of the fires evidently was smaller than commonly assumed, the government also released Friday several thick reports suggesting that firefighting efforts were hampered by bureaucratic bungling, communications foul-ups and major blunders by forecasters asked to predict how the fires might spread.
The reports suggested that park officials relied too much on the park’s fire history when they made their crucial early decisions. Until this year, the biggest known fire in Yellowstone had been an 1886 blaze that burned out after destroying 25,000 acres.