YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK, Wyo. — The south entrance to Yellowstone National Park reopened Tuesday after being closed for more than a week because of a wildfire in neighboring Grand Teton National Park.
“There’s probably been a lot of people putting off a visit due to the inconvenience of the extended drive,” Yellowstone fire spokesman Bill Swartley said. “Now with that roadway open I would expect more visitors to come to the park.”
A 10-mile stretch of U.S. 89/191/287 leading to Yellowstone was shut down on Aug. 22 when a wind-driven wildfire jumped the highway on the northeast side of Grand Teton park.
The closure forced visitors from the Jackson Hole area in Wyoming to take a detour, adding about an hour of drive time to reach Yellowstone through its west entrance.
The fire burned along both sides of a 5-mile stretch on either side of U.S. 89/191/287 and it took firefighters through Monday to douse hot spots and clear downed and dangerous burned trees.
Fire officials say the blaze that continues to burn in Grand Teton aided firefighters in their efforts to reopen the road.
“The smoke cloud that kicked up in the afternoon provided shade to the roadway and helped firefighters in mopping up the hot spots along the highway,” Grand Teton fire spokeswoman Karen Miranda said.
Miranda said motorists were urged to drive with caution because firefighters were still using the road and the fire might burn back over the highway.
The Flagg Ranch guest lodge and cabin operation remained closed. Grand Teton Lodge Co., which runs the facility, has decided to close it early for the winter and reopen it for the 2017 summer season next June 1.
The company’s other Grand Teton lodges at Jenny Lake and Jackson Lake and the Colter Bay Village facility will remain open this fall and are scheduled to close for the winter in October.
The lightning-caused fire that began in July has burned nearly 21 square miles and continues to burn actively in remote areas. The fire produced a large cloud of smoke Monday.
“It was quite a show, it was very dramatic and it was a very large column, but it was not threatening” any buildings or tourist areas, Miranda said.
Five fires were burning in Yellowstone, but major roads, entrances and tourist attractions were open.
The largest fire has burned nearly 55 square miles since it was started by lightning on Aug. 8.
The fires collectively occupy less than 2 percent of the land comprising Yellowstone, Swartley said.
The fires in both parks were expected to remain active over the next few days because of persistent dry, warm weather.