YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK, Wyo. (AP) — 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 was shut down on Aug. 22 when a wind-driven wildfire burned across the highway on the northeast side of Grand Teton park. The highway is the only road leading into the south entrance of Yellowstone.
The closure forced visitors coming up from the popular Jackson Hole area in northwest Wyoming to take a detour, adding about an hour of drive time to reach Yellowstone through its west entrance via Idaho and West Yellowstone, Montana.
The fire burned along about a 5-mile length on either side of the highway and it took firefighters through Monday to douse hot spots and clear downed and dangerous burned trees.
Ironically, the fire 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.
The highway reopened overnight, and the Yellowstone gate opened at 7 a.m. Tuesday.
Miranda said there were no speed restrictions, but motorists were urged to drive with caution because firefighters were still using the road to fight the fire where it might burn back over the highway.
The Flagg Ranch guest lodge and cabin operation located along the highway remains closed while crews work to restore power lines.
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 values at risk," Miranda said.
In Yellowstone, five fires are burning, but all major roads, entrances and tourist attractions are open.
The largest fire has burned nearly 55 square miles since it was started by lightning on Aug. 8.
"These fires still collectively, the fire footprints, occupy less than 2 percent of the lands comprising Yellowstone," Swartley said.
The fires in both parks are expected to remain active because of dry, warm weather persisting over the next few days.