Yellowstone tourists face detour for fire but landmarks open

YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK, Wyo. (AP) — Some tourists heading to Yellowstone National Park during the busy summer season are facing an hourlong detour Wednesday as a wildfire in neighboring Grand Teton National Park kept a highway closed.

Major tourist areas in both parks are open as the National Park Service holds events to celebrate its 100th anniversary this week. A route leading into Yellowstone’s South Entrance was shut down, so visitors coming from the south through Wyoming had to detour into Idaho.

Julie Guardado of Sacramento, California, and her boyfriend were visiting Yellowstone as part of a cross-country trip but decided to leave a day early over fears of more road closures.

“When we were driving around Yellowstone, we could just see fire around the mountains,” she said Wednesday. “Our car still smells like smoke.”

Firefighters hoped cooler weather would help slow the flames over the next couple of days, and fire spokesman Bill Swartley reiterated that “Yellowstone National Park is open for business.”

U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell is set to visit Yellowstone on Thursday, and no changes have been made to her plans because of the fire, Swartley said.

The blaze in Grand Teton has burned about 11 square miles since lightning sparked it last month, forcing about 50 people to flee a lodge and cabin operation and several campgrounds. Thirty horses also were evacuated.

Meanwhile, four fires were burning inside Yellowstone, but all major visitor areas and roads were open.

The largest blaze spans about 42 square miles between the community of West Yellowstone, Montana, and Madison Junction, an area in the park with a campground, visitor facilities and staff housing. Lightning ignited it Aug. 8.

Swartley said the fires were mostly being allowed to burn because they were not threatening major tourist areas.

“These fires are being managed as basically a good fire for the ecology and then, of course, if there’s anything getting close to cultural resources or public resources, structures, the fire is being engaged,” he said.

A 10-mile stretch of U.S. 89/191/287 has been closed since Monday after flames leaped across it, and they were still burning near the highway. The prospects for reopening the route are “not good in the near future” because the fire was close to the highway, fire spokeswoman Karen Miranda said.

Travelers coming from the south via the Jackson Hole area can still access Yellowstone through Idaho and the West Entrance. The detour adds a little over an hour to the drive to Old Faithful.

Grand Teton park and the Wyoming Department of Transportation have posted signs warning drivers of the closure. Grand Teton also is handing out notices and maps of the detour to Yellowstone.

The fire is burning on both sides of the northern portion of Jackson Lake, but no buildings have been lost. More than 100 firefighters, supported by helicopters, are battling the flames near the closed highway.

Cooler temperatures and higher humidity were expected over the next couple of days and should help firefighters, Miranda said.

The wildfires may have cut short Guardado’s trip, but they didn’t ruin it.

“Even with the smoke, it was still pretty amazing,” she said.

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