Back in 1988............................

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Posted by Ballpark Frank ( on 11:36:19 08/25/16

In Reply to: One long detour... posted by 46er


I was at Old Faithful in mid-August of 1988, when the North Fork Fire crossed the Firehole River near the Firehole Canyon swimming hole. (Helitack crews had dropped flaming alumagel to set a backfire, when the wind did a 180 on them, and swept the fire across the river tout de suite.) The fire split, and went in two directions. Just like vehicles, it went west down the Madison Canyon, and northeast up the Gibbon Canyon. (This is the famous incident that threatened West Yellowstone, and prompted Mormon farmers from Idaho to transport and loan miles of irrigation piping to help protect the town.)

The Northeast Entrance was already closed, as firefighters labored to protect Cooke City and SilverGate from the Storm Creek Fire. The South Entrance road had already been closed once by the Red Fire, which threatened Grant Village. It would close again, thanks to the Shoshone Fire, on Black Saturday, a few days after the West Entrance road closed.

I remember conversing with a fellow who was a seasonal concessions employee at Old Faithful. His wife also worked at Old Faithful. They were commuting from West Yellowstone each day. Suddenly, they were looking at a commute that forced them to exit through the South Entrance, and either drive the Reclamation Road over to Ashton (which was tough for non-high profile vehicles) or proceed all the way south to Jackson, and take Teton Pass. This couple had pets at home that needed to be let out, and fed. This poor fellow wasn't sure what he was going to do. Thankfully, that evening, the NPS orchestrated a "caravan" of vehicles that was led by pilot cars down the Madison Canyon to West Yellowstone. The word went out throughout the Old Faithful complex that anyone needing to get out to West needed to assemble at the visitor center at 7 or 7:30 p.m. for a briefing before departing. Being intensely curious, I went by the V.C., and listened in on the briefing. I wish I had recorded it! People were being told that once they entered the Madison Canyon, they needed to stay close to the back bumper of the vehicle in front of them, and keep their lights on. They were warned that they were going to see something out of Dante's Inferno, including still-burning logs and trees. In places, they would be driving over downed power lines. The word went out that this might be the last opportunity for several days, even weeks, for civilian passage via the West Entrance road.

A few days later, after waking up each morning at Canyon to fire ash on our car, and the entire area cloaked in smoke, we decided it was time to leave the park a few days early. We intended to exit via the South Entrance, but by the time we got to Hayden Valley, I hear scanner traffic saying they were closing the South Entrance because the Shoshone Fire was approaching Grant Village from the southwest. There were only 2 entrances left open. We hung a left at Fishing Bridge, and headed out the East Entrance. We were driving in smoke until we reached Cody. Driving south from Cody, we had a high wall of smoke visible to our right for at least 40 or 50 miles. It was Black Saturday, August 20, 1988, and the combined Yellowstone fires were destined to burn over 150,000 acres!


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