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The Year Yellowstone Burned

The Year Yellowstone Burned, May 2015
by Jeff Henry

Taylor Trade Publishing
296 pages
ISBN: 1589799038
EAN: 9781589799035
Hardcover (reprint)
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"A look at forest fires out of control"

Fresh Fiction Review

The Year Yellowstone Burned
Jeff Henry

Reviewed by Clare O'Beara
Posted April 21, 2015

Non-Fiction Gardening | Non-Fiction Memoir | Non-Fiction Photography

1988 was a landmark year in the history of Yellowstone National Park. Forest fires have always occurred, Jeff Henry tells us, so that natural features are named Burnt Hole or Firehole River. Lightning would strike a major tree, or native hunters might deliberately set fires to clear trees and make more buffalo range. But THE YEAR YELLOWSTONE BURNED was unprecedented.

I enjoyed the history of the area, as recorded by mountain men and surveyors, and the vibrant photographs. Early in the days of national parks, a wildfire was considered a disaster; now a fire is seen as part of the ecological cycle, clearing out old dead growth and making room for fresh. Conifers grow quickly but rot slowly. Preserving lives became the target of firefighter efforts. Jeff Henry was a Park Service employee since 1977, and describes the various fires which ignited during 1988. Deep snow had fallen that spring, but by midsummer the high elevation forest was tinder dry. Jeff found that many major trees had died, from a combination of drought stress and pine bark beetles. Fires were named for the area where they started, such as Fan or Clover-Mist. Vice-President George Bush had been scheduled to go fly-fishing in the Clover-Mist fire area; he had to cancel. As the fires expanded, enormous mushroom clouds were produced by the firestorms.

Jeff explains the meaning of firefighter terms such as ladder fuels, torching and crown fires. He describes the work of preparing to block the path of a fire or struggling against a blaze by ground crews, smokejumpers and air services. The fate of animals too is recorded; as best the rangers could establish few bears were killed. Jeff calls it miraculous that no person was killed in 1988, while a special fight was put up to save historic buildings.

The maps at the start of each chapter impress upon the reader how a couple of separate fires enlarged and converged, until almost the whole region was burning simultaneously. 25,000 firefighters were involved that summer, and only the snow of September quenched the blazes. Studies of the effects and regrowth were conducted, as plants and new trees grew. Jeff Henry reckons that THE YEAR YELLOWSTONE BURNED was made inevitable by warming and drying climate in the region, and he warns that either forests will not grow so well in a drier future, or those that do grow could blaze again. I found this study fascinating as a personal record of nature and of human endeavour. The many spectacular photos alone are well worth a look.

Learn more about The Year Yellowstone Burned


The Yellowstone fires of 1988 consumed nearly 800,000 acres—36 percent of the park. In the years following, spectacular wildflowers rose from the ashes and trees rapidly reclaimed the landscape.

In this twenty-five-year look back at the fires, author and photographer Jeff Henry recalls not only the summer of 1988, when he witnessed and photographed nearly every aspect of the fires, but also the years since as nature healed the charred landscape.

A beautiful book that depicts nature as simultaneously malevolent and beneficent, The Year Yellowstone Burned demonstrates the resilience of one of our continent’s most dynamic ecosystems.

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