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1988 Yellowstone National Park fires remembered, 33 years later

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Posted at 6:15 PM, Jun 25, 2021

June 25 marks the 33rd anniversary of the 1988 Yellowstone National Park Fires that affected roughly 1 million acres of land in the area.

Many who are familiar with the blaze that reached national news will have their own memories of what happened and what they saw during the three months of fires. But Al Nash, former Q2 News director, said Friday afternoon that this was unlike any fire he had reported on.

“This was a watershed year for wildland fire, not just for Yellowstone National Park, but for all of the land management agencies,” said Nash.

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Images of the 1988 Yellowstone National Park fires.

According to the National Park Service, one fire started of natural causes in mid-June of 1988. Park managers and fire behavioral specialists allowed the 18 lightning-strike-caused blazes to burn until July 15, when it was announced that no new naturally caused fires would be allowed to burn. This was due to an unexpected dry spell in July of 1988.

Firefighters would attempt to control the blaze, but due to extreme weather conditions and dry fuel accumulations, fire experts agreed that only rain or snow could stop the blaze.

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1988 Yellowstone Park fires anniversary

Nash said that that the Yellowstone and surrounding areas were affected by the blaze for quite some time.

“We were all impacted for several weeks by the Yellowstone fire. It impacted our community, the economy, It impacted the air quality. You didn't have to be right next to the park to notice what was happening,” said Nash.

Nash said that the way he and the 1988 Q2 team executed coverage for the fire had to change due to the nature of the fire. He said that once Yellowstone geared up to suppress the blaze, coverage of the fire then ramped up.

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1988 Yellowstone Park fires anniversary

“We had news crews in Yellowstone almost every day for a week. We rented motel rooms in Red Lodge to have people sleep there and to edit tape and bring them back and forth from Billings for a while. We were chartering private aircraft to bring tape out of West Yellowstone until that option was closed,” said Nash.

Sept. 11, a day that has a different meaning today, was once known as the day that Mother Nature took control and snow fell. This snowfall put an end to the fire in Yellowstone.

Nash said covering this was incredibly important and once in a lifetime story for the Q2 News team who helped bring coverage of 1988 Yellowstone fires to the community.

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Al Nash: Former news director at Q2