Crews in Yellowstone National Park say they expect an average fire season this year, but they know how quickly that can change.
Park officials said that is why preparation is key when it comes to protecting the buildings and communities in and around the park.
“This project is all about risk management,” said John Cataldo, a Yellowstone National Park fire management officer.
“By sacrificing some of the trees directly in and around this community we are reducing the risk to firefighters. That’s our number one objective," he said.
Crews are creating 34 acres of what they call “defensible space" at the northeast entrance to the park as they try to keep distance between trees and remove trees that are already down.
“Generally you want 20 feet between trees,” said Zac Allen, a park fuels specialist.
Cataldo and Allen said this work is important because it is much more difficult to stop the spread of fire once it is in the tops of the trees.
“What we’re trying to do here with this project is affect the physics of a fire in this area and cause that fire to drop down out of the crowns of the trees onto the ground where we can manage it with personnel,” said Cataldo.
To do this, crews are removing dead and downed trees in the area. They are also forced to cut some trees down to create the right spacing, which is a process that takes years to be approved.
“If they’re salvageable, and they could be used from something else, then we will pull them out with the tractor,” said Allen. “If they’re too far gone, we will cut them up to put into the burn pile or chip them."
It's a process that has to be revisited every few years, as things in the park regenerate quickly and fire is always a concern. “We haven’t had much [near the northeast entrance] for the past 28 years and that’s not something we intend to sustain,” said Cataldo.
“This ecosystem needs fire. It's famously fire adapted, so were taking the necessary steps around the communities to do what we need to do in the wilderness areas," he said.
Allen said there are things everyone can do to keep their property a little safer during the fire season, including making sure to keep at least 20 feet between your home and areas of thick trees.
He also advises keeping any fire wood piles a good distance away from your home.