We Remember the Yellowstone Fires of ‘88
This summer marks the 20th anniversary of the 1988 fires in Yellowstone. No one who visited or lived in the area at that time will ever forget the infamous fires that ultimately burned 793,000 acres (about 36%) of Yellowstone National Park.
But even those who were not present remember. The world watched on television as giant plumes of smoke filled the sky, and fierce flames crept ever closer to main roads, gateway communities, and the hardworking firefighters trying desperately to hold them back.
The fires of Yellowstone quickly became the nation’s largest fire-fighting effort, as firefighters and military recruits poured into the Park from around the country. More than 25,000 firefighters -- as many as 9,000 at one time -- attacked the Yellowstone fires in 1988.
Human lives, historic Park structures, and Yellowstone wildlife were in grave danger as the fires raged on for several weeks in July, August, and September.
New Exhibit on the Fires of 1988
If you plan to visit Yellowstone within the next ten months, don’t miss the new exhibit entitled "'88 Fires: A Season of Change" at Yellowstone’s Heritage & Research Center near the Park's north entrance in Gardiner, Montana.
The exhibit is primarily a pictorial overview of the fires, incorporating quotes from the first-hand accounts of people who were there: those who fought the fires, worked in the Park during that summer, or were residents in gateway communities.
There is an audio-visual component so you can watch newscasts and other official footage from that summer. You can also browse several exhibit cases containing firefighting equipment, uniforms, burned signs and drawings, as well as publications generated as a result of the fires.
The exhibit appears in the main lobby of the Heritage & Research Center and continues on the upper floor outside of the library and archives. The lobby exhibit space was funded in part by a grant from the Yellowstone Park Foundation in 2005 as part of our "Wonderland on Exhibit" project.
The exhibit is free and is scheduled to run through May 2009. It is open to visitors on weekdays from 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM.
Please keep in mind that since the building houses the Park’s priceless, five million-piece museum collection and archive, there are special security procedures in place. Visitors are asked to sign in at the check-in desk upon arrival and may be asked to leave their bags in a secure area or in your vehicle.
Other Learning Opportunities within Yellowstone
After 20 years, lodgepole pine forests that burned in 1988 are starting to grow thick and tall again, but there still remains evidence of these dramatic fires. This summer, a series of ten new and revised wayside exhibits are being installed in locations throughout the Park to help visitors identify and understand the indications of fire damage and rebirth they see around them.
Also, be sure to check out the exhibit and film on Yellowstone’s wildfire ecology, management, and history at the Grant Village Visitor Center.
Learn More Online
To learn much more about the history and effects of the ’88 wildfires, Yellowstone’s fire management policy, and why some Park fires are allowed to burn, visit the YNP website’s wildland fire page>>
Download a copy of the National Park Service’s excellent 20th anniversary publication Yellowstone Fires of 1988>>