Head of Yellowstone during 1988 fires dies

Bob Barbee
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Yellowstone National Park - The man who oversaw Yellowstone National Park during the wildfires that burned across the park in 1988 has died.

Bob Barbee was 80. Family spokeswoman Joan Anzelmo says Barbee died at home in Bozeman on Sunday.

“The current and past employees of Yellowstone National Park send their deepest condolences to the Barbee family,” said Superintendent Dan Wenk. “Those of us who had the privilege to work for and with Bob all owe him a debt of gratitude. He gave us the ability to deal with complex issues and the humanity and compassion to engage with our advocates, adversaries, and colleagues.”

Barbee was superintendent of Yellowstone from 1983 to 1994. The 1988 Yellowstone fires were a defining event in his 42-year career of public service. The fires burned more than 1,500 square miles inside and outside the park and transformed Yellowstone's landscapes in ways still easily recognizable. More than 10,000 firefighters battled the fires at their peak.

Barbee was born on November 12, 1935, in Columbus, Ohio. He graduated from Colorado State University (CSU) in 1958 with an undergraduate degree in Biology and returned to CSU earning a Masters in Natural Resources Management in 1968. He served a stint in the U.S. Army ROTC in Fort Benning, GA. Barbee began his National Park Service career in 1958 with seasonal ranger positions in Rocky Mountain and Yosemite national parks. He then moved his young family to Carlsbad Caverns National Park for his first permanent position as an interpretive ranger. In quick succession his National Park Service career took him to the Albright Training Center at Grand Canyon National Park; to Point Reyes National Park; back to Yosemite as a fire ecologist; to the first of his superintendencies at Cape Lookout National Seashore, then Cape Hatteras National Seashore; followed by serving at the Western Regional Office in San Francisco as Chief of the Division of Interpretation. There followed superintendencies at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Redwoods National Park, and Yellowstone National Park. After 11 eventful years in Yellowstone, Barbee became Regional Director of the Alaskan parks, where he served until his retirement in 2000, capping a distinguished 42-year public service career.

Barbee was a passionate outdoorsman, an expert alpinist who summited all of Colorado's 14,000-ft. peaks. He was also a marathon-level runner and a downhill and cross-country skier.

He was recognized with the Department of the Interior’s three highest honor awards (Superior Service, Distinguished Service, and Meritorious Service) along with numerous other special awards including those from the White House and the National Parks Conservation Association.

Barbee is survived by his wife, Carol, three daughters and seven grandchildren. A celebration of Bob's life will be held in May 2017 in Yellowstone National Park. The date of this event will be announced later.