Precipitation in the Rockies has been below normal this year, temperatures have been above normal. Those two conditions alone are creating very dangerous fire conditions in the national parks. In Yellowstone and Grand Teton, for example, officials have rated the fire danger at "very high" and "extreme."
While I was in Yellowstone this past week some thunderstorms rolled through on Friday and Saturday. While the storms nicely lowered the high temperatures, they also sparked six fires in the two parks -- three in each. Fire managers quickly responded, in some cases calling in smokejumpers to attack the flames.
As I drove through parts of Yellowstone -- mainly on the western side between Mammoth Hot Springs and Old Faithful -- I was struck by how many downed trees there were. In some cases they were stacked like cord-wood. Which makes me wonder how wise it is to quickly attack some of these fires. Putting out all the flames simply allows the fuel load in the park to grow to dangerously high levels.
Following the 1988 wildfires that swept across more than a third of Yellowstone there was a long review of the park's fire management plans. That review led to an overhaul that gave way to today's approach to battling fires in the park.
In deciding whether to actively battle a fire, park managers examine whether it poses a threat to the public or any facilities and the existing weather conditions. While some of the fires sparked on Friday were located well away from the public, I can only guess that the extreme dry conditions throughout the park prompted the decisions to battle them.
However, the growing fuel load across the park has to be a concern to park officials.