Two Years After The Fire, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming.jpg

Two Years after The Fire, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

In 1988, a wet spring was followed by a drought that led to the driest summer in the history of Yellowstone National Park. Fueled by dry tinder, lighting, strong winds, and, to a lesser extent, the activities of outfitters and woodcutters, over 50 separate fires merged to create an out-of-control conflagration that burned 800,000 acres of the northwestern corner of Wyoming.

Dozens of elk and other animals were consumed by fire, as was the mature-growth stands of 200-year-old lodgepole pine. Ultimately, few other plants species were affected, their tops burned, but not their roots, so that throughout most of the park regeneration occurred quickly.

The North Fork fire was the largest, located in the western part of the park where this photograph was made two years later. The oval of new-grown grass — changing its seasonal hue in September 1990 – looks as though the ground is still ablaze. Beyond this circle — and judging by the paucity of plant life -- most of the barren ground must have been deeply seared by the fire’s intensity, killing the organic material necessary to quickly support new plant life.