Park Service officials estimate that 995,000 of Yellowstone's 2.2 million acres were affected by the fires of 1988. 573,000 acres, approximately one-fourth of the park, were blackened. 367,000 acres were burned on the surface. 55,000 acres of meadow and sage-grassland were burned.
Miraculously, only a handful of guest cabins and other buildings at Old Faithful were burned. One of the 25,000 firefighters lost his life.Experts expect that the grasslands will have recovered by this summer. They are predicting a profusion of wildflowers in the park, as well. They believe the fires opened up areas allowing for more growth. More good news is that most of the lodgepole pine in areas of surface burn will not die.
Park officials I talked to would not speculate on the recovery time for areas of the park that were severly burned. Lodgepole forests have already reseeded themselves from cones that survived the fires. The blackened trees, however, may stand for decades.
Major burns are apparent from the roads in numerous places including between West Yellowstone and Madison Junction, Old Faithful, near the Lewis River and between Norris and Canyon. Experets claim the last time fires of this magnitude occurred was 200 to 400 years ago.
"Our primary concern is to get rid of the perception that Yellowstone was destroyed," says an official of TW Recreational Services.
According to park naturalist Dan Ng the great majority of fall and winter visitors have said the effects of the fires aren't as bad as they throught they would be.
For now the controversial let-it-burn-policy has been suspended for evaluation. And the colors of black and rust have been added to Yellowstone's palette.