Yellowstone national park
I read in the paper on Monday about the 57th anniversary of the August 17, 1959 Hebgen Earthquake that created Earthquake Lake in Montana, just west of Yellowstone National Park. The 7.5 magnitude earthquake was the second strongest quake in the lower 48 states in the 20th century, according to the United States Forest Service, killing 28 people, including five people in one Idaho Falls family who were entombed in the ensuing landslide, and are still there to this day. I was only three years old when that quake occurred, so I wouldn’t remember it, nor am I aware that it was felt in Casper, Wyoming, where we live, although it might have been felt there too. Still, I doubt I would have remembered it.
What I do remember, is the trip our family took when I was a child, that included Earthquake Lake. I don’t recall whether I was told about the 28 people who died there, or the ones they never found, but I rather doubt it, because things like that tend to be something that sticks with me…even really bothering me when I was younger, because I almost felt like I was a trespasser on their graves. These days, I realize that being near someone’s grave, whether in a cemetery or a natural grave such as Earthquake Lake became, is still nothing more than a final resting place. What impresses me more now is the sadness of the loss. That family was on vacation, and suddenly their lives were gone…over in an instant. Along with the loss of life, there was the damage to roads, making it even harder to bring help in to the people who were trapped, although I’m not sure it would have made much difference.
I remember feeling the enormity of the catastrophic event that took place that day a number of years earlier. I was impressed by the ability of an earthquake to change the face of the landscape around it. What had been the Madison River, was blocked by a massive landslide creating Earthquake Lake. The deaths were random. A couple, Edgar and Ethel Stryker were killed by a boulder that crushed them, while their three young sons, sleeping in a nearby tent, were unhurt. Irene Bennett and her son Phil were saved, but her husband Purley and their three other children were killed. Myrtle Painter died of her injuries, while her 16 year old daughter Carole survived. That was the story of the event, this one died, and that one lived. I think that while I probably didn’t know about all those deaths, that I still felt the sadness of that place, because it is a place I have never forgotten. An earthquake that happens in a rural area seems to make us think that it was simple a change of the landscape, but that is rarely the case. It seems that there are almost always a few people in the area, and that means a loss of life. A very sad event indeed.
There is a fire burning in Yellowstone National Park. There are fires burning all over the western United States, as a matter of fact, but this particular fire bring back memories of the last big fire in Yellowstone National Park, and just how upset everyone was over the Let It Burn policy. Now, here we are again with a lightning caused fire burning in Yellowstone National Park, and no effort being made to fight it…unless structures end up being in danger of destruction.
As with the 1988 fire, they tell us that the Natural Burn policy, another name for the Let It Burn policy, is in effect for this fire. The biggest problem with that policy is, of course, is that a fire burning unchecked can get so far out of control that it burns beyond human ability to put it out. It becomes an impossible task. That is what happened in 1988, and the whole nation was angry about it. In the end, that fire burned 1.2 million acres. Many people had the impression that the Park Service had failed badly. Nearly a third of Yellowstone National Park was badly burned. The Park Service said that the situation was inevitable because of the drought. Still, most people, me included, felt that if they had tried to fight it sooner, they could have saved a lot of the park from the hideous scarring damage it ended up with.
I understand that Yellowstone National Park has several fires each year, and that they usually burn themselves out in a short period of time, but in drought years, the Park Service simply can’t allow the fires to go. My concern with the current fire is that we are already at 2594 plus acres burned. How quickly is this fire going to get out of hand and how long before they will decide to do something about it?
The Yellowstone National Park fire of 1988 started in June and burned into November. It is a summer I will never forget. Our skies were constantly filled with smoke. The air stunk from the acrid smoke. It was hard for people to breathe. You couldn’t get away from it. I know this is how every person who lives in a fire area feels. I know I don’t have to explain this to anyone who has been around fires much. They already know more about wildfires than they ever wanted to.
The important thing for the government and the park service to remember is that the people of this nation love Yellowstone National Park, our oldest national park. It existed before the states where it is located were even states. I truly understand that fires are a natural part of the forest ecosystem, and that they get rid of dry brush that could bring about a worse fire, but I can’t see that it serves any good purpose to let 1.2 million acres of beautiful forest land burn and not even try to stop it. It destroys the homes of wildlife. It hurts the economy of the area it is in. All I ask is that the Park Service and the government remember just how important Yellowstone National Park is to the people of this nation.