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August 04, 2008 2:34 pm

Fires part of natural cycle

Written by Tribune Staff

Driving through Yellowstone late Sunday, the monstrous smoke cloud from the Gunbarrel Fire on the North Fork loomed large on the horizon.
An update from the Interagency Fire Use Management Teams at mid-day said the fire had grown to about 22,000 acres — from a little over 1,000 acres a week ago.
Believe it or not, that's good news.
People who spend much time on the North Fork have seen the ugly destruction wrought by bark beetles over the last number of years.
Entomologists say the beetles have been aided in their rampage by several circumstances, including drought and warmer temperatures over the past few years. The North Fork corridor has been hit especially hard — the once-green mountainsides turned rusty red as trees died, and finally, the gray of dead pines dominated miles of forest land.
Firefighters are working hard and managing the Gunbarrel to the extent that it affects structures and highways on the North Fork; otherwise, they're letting it “do its thing.” And that's just what Mother Nature intended.
The 1988 fires in Yellowstone were hard for people to stomach. Some feared that the fires burned so hot the land would never recover. But the Sunday drive along Yellowstone's highways provided a vivid and constant reminder that the places worst scorched 20 years ago are now healthy, lively forests — something not seen on the North Fork for a long time.
As forest officials continue their “let it burn” policy today, the smoke clouding the Basin may be unpleasant, but the long-term benefits of the Gunbarrel Fire, and possibly others, will be significant and welcome.