Finally, with the Christmas season hard upon a wintry land, the fires have gone out in Yellowstone National Park.
It has been half a year since lightning hit a tree near Rose Creek on May 24 and ignited the first of 20 wildfires in the 2.2 million-acre park.That blaze died on its own. But others, christened Hellroaring and Storm Creek, Clover and Mist and Huck, roared up from smoldering embers to engulf nearly half of the first national park in walls of flame that eventually stretched 20 miles wide and 40 miles long on two fronts.
The firestorms of Yellowstone were awesome and frightening. Despite the efforts of 25,000 firefighters, only the natural forces of snow and rain were a match for the fires' fury.
By mid-November, the firefighters were gone and the remnants of flame no longer demanded constant attention. As inches, then feet of snow fell on the park tucked into the corner where Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana meet, park officials officially declared the conflagration over Nov. 18.
After six months of trying to fight fires, patch together disrupted services and keep the park gates open, Yellowstone officials at last had a chance to assess damage and prepare for the future.
They have already asked Congress for $21.3 million toward fire recovery, including elaborate exhibits, books, traveling information teams and extensive research. Of that money, $10 million would be used to repair actual fire damage.
"We lost 100 power poles and 18 miles of line, which amounted to about 40,000 pounds of copper wire," said Tim Hudson, Yellowstone's maintenance chief. "At one time we were running 13 generators and using 5,000 gallons of diesel fuel a day just to keep this park operating. We didn't get full power restored until October.
"About 200 miles of roadside terrain needs to be rehabilitated by taking down all the burned trees - the snags - that threaten to fall on the highway. Lord knows how many need to be pulled down along the hiking and ski trails. Then we have to cut the stumps down to ground level and grind up their tops, spread wood chips out, and cover them with soil so they'll decompose.
"We had 32 miles of bulldozer line, but we got that fixed. About 1,000 miles of hand-cut fire lines still have to be repaired. On one trail alone we've got to replace seven pedestrian bridges. We've got to clean up and aerate the soil at more than 150 helicopter landing sites. All the back-country campsites used by fire crews also have to be rehabbed."