Evocative, magical, suspended in that mythic world of woodland folklore where animals are predominant and the planet moves to encircle the ecosystem in a constant tranquil accord. Yellowstone 88 - Song of Fire tells the story of the devastating fires that engulfed the park for five months of 1988 until winter snows and rain quelled the inferno and ended the destruction – or did it?
In dual tones of fiery reds, purples, yellows and oranges set against a dark, burning backdrop of damaged, diseased and drought ridden trees, dry lightning sparks a fire that rages like an avenging angel until its crusade is complete.
We see the many animals that live in the park – bear, bison, elk, deer, ground squirrels, fox and coyote. We see trees and scrub and plant life. We see mountains and rivers and valleys. We see dawn and dusk and the dark night skies that reveal the magnificent nebula in the galaxy above.
These sculpted two dimensional animals - part spirit and part real - flee the fire to quickly reach a place of safety, if they can, some go to water, some go underground. Eventually a white winter snow of intense severity covers the scorched earth where now nothing edible can grow and fauna, exhausted from the fire and weakened by hunger, starve to death in search of food.
Bleak and desolate the starry cosmos turns from one season to the next and the next, and the land rests and renews and life begins again like the primordial spring. Flora grows in abundance, nourished by the fallen ashes of destruction, and animals and birds return in strength to once again reclaim their birthright. And so the story is as much about evolution as loss, and the spirit that resides in such an ancient forest
At the time of the fire there were no wolves living in the park but their existence in Yellowstone predates the creation of the park and their presence and soul has always been felt, and so the spirit of the wolf speaks through this poem and guides us through the animation. Once reintroduced into the park their presence altered the shape of the ecosystem and returned it to an original stature.
YELLOWSTONE 88 – Fire Facts
In the summer of 1988 dry lightning sparked a fire in the parched and drought ridden landscape of Yellowstone, igniting a blaze that would scorch over 1,500,000 perimeter acres of the park.
More than 20,000 firefighters and military personnel from around the US descended upon the park to try and make a stand against the inferno.
For five months the fires, some natural and some caused by humans, raged unabated until winter snow and rain finally put an end to the conflagration
Relatively few animals died in the actual fires. Instinctively fauna understand and are able to gauge fire and can usually survive one. Some flee and some go underground, most note the wind and smoke patterns and move away from the fire as quickly and as far as they can. Multiple fires converging pose a greater threat but the real danger to animals and birds comes after a fire when the land is scorched bare and there is no food to be found. The same winter snow that doused the uncontained fires was so severe that animals simply starved or died attempting to find food. It was a bitter loss of great proportion.
Multiple lessons in wild land fire management were learned from those harrowing months - lessons that continue to shape on-going policy, communication and command structures and changes in critical ecological doctrine.
Numbers in Yellowstone
- 9 fires caused by humans
- 42 fires caused by lightning.
- 36% (793,880 acres) of the park was affected.
- Fires, which began outside of the park, burned 63% or approximately 500,000 acres of the total acreage.
- About 300 large mammals perished as a direct result of the fires: 246 elk (of an estimated 40,000–50,000), 9 bison, 4 mule deer, 2 moose.
- $120 million was spent fighting the fires.
- Total of 10,000 people were involved in these efforts
- June 14: Storm Creek Fire begins.
- June 23: Shoshone Fire begins.
- June 25: Fan Fire begins.
- June 30: Red Fire begins.
- July 5: Lava Fire begins.
- July 11: Mink and Clover fires begin.
- July 14: On a backcountry fishing trip near the eastern border of Yellowstone National Park, Vice President George H.W. Bush must leave early when fire comes close to camp.
- July 21: Yellowstone National Park begins suppressing all fires.
- July 22: North Fork Fire begins.
- July 25: Fire camp crew jumps into West Thumb Bay to escape flames.
- August 20: "Black Saturday," fires double to more than 480,000 acres.
- September 3: Storm Creek Fire burns over Silver Tip Ranch, north of Yellowstone National Park; the historic ranch survives.
- September 7: Firestorm blasts Old Faithful area; Old Faithful Inn is saved and no one is injured.
- September 10: Residents of Mammoth Hot Springs evacuate as fire moves across Bunsen Peak toward the area.
- September 11: Rain and heavy snowfall suppress the fires. Thus begins a time of deprivation and starvation for many animals.
The penning of, Song of Fire, the narrative poem that guides the animation of Yellowstone 88, has it’s roots in a TED Talk given some while ago by the writer, journalist and eco-activist, George Monbiot, on the subject of rewilding. Rewilding is a newish word coined for a forward thinking concept, it means the mass restoration of ecosystems. Watching Monbiot happily lay out how the discovery of rewilding changed his life - gave it purpose and meaning – I was inspired by the notion of Trophic Cascade which he explains here:
This is an ecological process, which starts at the top of the food chain and tumbles all the way down to the bottom, and the classic example is what happened at Yellowstone National Park when wolves were reintroduced in 1995.
How Wolves Changed Rivers - George Monbiot
I alone have shaped the valley
Moved the water, trod the stream
Spreading far and wide the forest
River’s cradle, mountains, dreams
Home of bears and wolves and bison
Lodgepole pines and blue, spruce trees
Summer solstice. All is quiet
All is waiting for the rains
Broken trees like broken promise
Set the scene for great travails
Cloud to ground the silent lightning
Strikes not once, but twice again
Then an ember falls cascading
Light as air and breath exhaled
Racing, drifting, like some wishes
Cast their spell as kindling sails
Now the sky is orange, glowing
Now the fauna pressing on
Running, rushing, hooves-a-beating
All is fleet in speed and song
Winds like tempests set in motion
Whirl the fire overhead
And the forest strains to hear it
Seeking, speaking. Voice of death
Far beneath the maelstrom moment
Far beneath the fire’s dread
Bear and cub and squirrel soundly
Rest their weary worn out heads
Quickly moves inferno onward
Jumping roads and rivers wide
Catching, snatching, Taxa burning
Nothing can the forest hide
Parched and dry the tinder valley
Gives the fire all it has
And the fire soon consumes it
Dancing, spinning, turning mass
On it rages in a fury
On it wages hellish war
Through the summer, through the season
Can the forest give it more?
Pinecones seed their children onward
Explode to rest on forest floor
Then the hand of fate’s abated
And the spirit needs no more
Softly falls a silent blanket
Ghostly swirls that form within
Winter snow comes cold and riding
Drifting in on arctic winds
All is quiet all is muted
As the Bison trundle in
Slowly sinking, tired, mired
In their seeking, in their quest
Head and hoof move earth and water
Nothing - does this land possess
Fall where standing, life extinguished
Creatures of the ancient earth
Now to roam where dreams enlighten
Time of waiting, time of birth
Rest one season, then another
Weave a spell. A shift. A sign
Then the forest will rekindle
Flora, fauna - all in time
Betsy De Fries
YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK
Yellowstone is the oldest national park in the world. Established by Congress in 1872, the park boundaries cross the state lines of Wyoming, Montana and Idaho. Yellowstone existed even before those territories became states. Native Americans have lived in the Yellowstone region for more than 11,000 years.
The park is the centerpiece of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, which at 28,000 square miles is the largest remaining, nearly-intact temperate-zone ecosystem on Earth.
Yellowstone Park was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1978.
- Narrated by:
- Peter Coyote
- A Poem by:
- Betsy de Fries
- Production, Design, Animation:
- Little Fluffy Clouds
- Director, Designer, Animator:
- Jerry van de Beek
- Director, Producer:
- Betsy de Fries
- Sound Design:
- Jerry van de Beek
- Mark Murphy
- Music and Sound Mix:
- Secrets & Machines
- Composed by:
- Mark Murphy
- Voice Over Recording:
- Audio Engineer
- Stephen Barncard
- Ted Talk on Rewilding and Trophic Cascade – George Monbiot https://bit.ly/3fBbxQZ
- NPS.gov Y-88 Fire facts https://www.nps.gov/yell/learn/nature/1988-fires.htm
- Production of Little Fluffy Clouds LLC - ©2021