Letters From the West

Wilkinson remembers Old Faithful firestorm

Park Service photographer Jeff Henry captured this shot of the wall of flames from the historic Old Faithful Inn on Sept. 7, 1988. (National Park Service)

Park Service photographer Jeff Henry captured this shot of the wall of flames from the historic Old Faithful Inn on Sept. 7, 1988. (National Park Service)

Todd Wilkinson is one of the army of reporters, including me, who were caught in the firestorm at Old Faithful 25 years ago Saturday. He writes about that experience in his column this week in the Jackson Hole Guide and News.

He begins with my description of the moment the fire took control of the weather in Scorched Earth: How the Fires of Yellowstone Changed America, then relates the experience of Yellowstone spokeswoman Amy Vanderbilt who was there as well. She remembered local reporters including Scott McMillion of the Livingston Enterprise and later the Bozeman Chronicle. The Idaho Statesman had reporter Steve Stuebner and photographer Stuart Wong on the scene that day.

Others I remember include Angus Thuermer, the editor of the Jackson Hole News and Guide and Bob Ekey, now with the Wilderness Society and then with the Billings Gazette. Jim Carrier, then known as the Rocky Mountain Ranger, was there for the Denver Post.

I also crossed paths with David Frazier, the Boise photographer who then was freelancing for Newsweek.

Wilkinson, of Bozeman, has just come off of a book tour promoting his excellent environmental biography of iconoclast Ted Turner called Last Stand. The engaging read shows how Turner turned his personal interest in places, critters and people of all political and personal persuasions into a crusade to save the planet and its inhabitants.

It also shows that people like Turner will be the buyers if states put the public land on the auction block, not necessarily the traditional keepers of the western culture. But they won’t all have his values nor be as good a neighbor.

Rocky Barker is the energy and environment reporter for the Idaho Statesman and has been writing about the West since 1985. He is the author of Scorched Earth How the Fires of Yellowstone Changed America and co-producer of the movie Firestorm: Last Stand at Yellowstone, which was inspired by the book and broadcast on A&E Network. He also co-authored the Flyfisher's Guide to Idaho and the Wingshooter's Guide to Idaho with Ken Retallic. He also was on the Statesman’s team that covered the Sen. Larry Craig sex scandal, which was one of three Pulitzer Prize finalists in breaking news in 2007. The National Wildlife Federation awarded him its Conservation Achievement Award.

Posted in Letters from the West