We Could Have Stopped This

Yellowstone Park's worst blazes spark a controversy

For the first 100 years after Yellowstone National Park was created in 1872, its caretakers diligently protected its forests from fire damage. As scientists learned more about the balance of nature in areas like Yellowstone, they discovered that fire was sometimes a helpful, even necessary, ingredient. Thus in 1972 the National Park Service adopted a policy of allowing spontaneous fires to burn unimpeded unless they seriously threatened lives or property.

Natural burning has brooked little opposition, but then Yellowstone has rarely suffered serious fire damage. Until this summer, that is. In the midst of the hottest and dryest season in the...

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