The Yosemite Rim Fire has received media attention as yet another example of the type of natural disaster that is striking the country with increasing frequency. Fortunately, this one has had few human casualties, in part because many precautions have been taken.
California Governor Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency for San Francisco County on August 19th. The public utilities of California's Bay Area are located about 140 miles west of the fire; as of Sunday, the fire had not reached the Hetch Hetchy reservoir, which supplies about 85% of San Francisco's drinking water, but a statement emphasized that there was plenty of water available in local reservoirs. The incidental cause of the fire remains under investigation, but the role of climate change in allowing such blazes cannot be underestimated. In part, they result from a "fire debt" as a result of decades of fire suppression, but conditions in the area have also become increasingly warm and dry, making a "tinderbox" out of the area.
1. This infernal night-time vista
The Yosemite Rim fire at night. Though the fire hasn't threatened population centers or heavily trafficked areas of the national park, the potential of this fire has been immense: the fire tripled in size from last Wednesday to last Thursday and doubled again from Thursday to Friday.
2. It's visible from outer space
A NASA moderate resolution imaging spectroradiometer (MODIS) has captured images of the Rim Fire, officially making in visible from space (at 250m/pixel). In a different photo from yesterday morning, poster Stuart Rankin mentioned that pollution had spread as far as Nevada and the Burning Man Festival.
3. This house covered in tin foil
In this photo provided to the AP by the National Park Service, a house is covered in tin foil on Tuesday by CalFire crews trying to protect structures from damage. Fortunately, by then the firefighters were starting to gain some ground.
4. Orange jumpsuits, blazing flames
Inmate firefighters walked among burning trees in the Northwest edge of Yosemite State Park. In 2008, the inmates were paid $1/hour; they have time shaved off their sentences in exchange for their work. As they battle the raging blazes, sweat pours "like Niagara Falls" under their suits, firefighter Anthony Candido told the Christian Science Monitor.
The program saves California taxpayers $80 million a year on average, but critics say it takes jobs from regular workers without providing the protections to inmates that it would to regular firefighters.
5. The destruction it has left in its wake
A firefighter stands atop a truck and surveys a campground destroyed by fire on Monday. Firefighters made some headway on Monday, and by Wednesday evening the fires had slowed to devouring 300 acres per hour rather than the rate of 1000 it had reached a day before, or 3,000 at its peak last week. Full containment, however, isn't expected until September 10.
6. The new, post-apocalyptic sky
A burned tree is juxtaposed with the rising sun near state Highway 120 on Sunday. Smoke has reached cities as far away as Carson City and Reno, Nevada, five hours away, where Renown Regional Medical Center has experienced a slight uptick in emergency room visits.
7. This California National Guard Sergeant looking into the face of danger
In this photo from Thursday, August 22, Sgt. Chris Boni, crew chief of the 1-140th Aviation Battalion (Air Assault) from the California Army National Guard, releases water onto the rim fire. Yesterday, the California National Guard said it had launched a drone typically used in combat operations in Afghanistan and Iraq to fly over the fire, gathering information that can help direct firefighters on the ground. The National Guard is hoping to expand its domestic role.
8. This burned-out car
A charred SUV sits on a campground destroyed by the wildfire on Monday. As of Wednesday night, the wildfire had officially become the sixth largest in recorded California history.
9. The fact that the smoke and the clouds have become indistinguishable — and the larger meaning of that.
Firefighter Charlie Ferris of Los Angeles watches a smoke plume from the rim fire on Sunday. According to the Science World Report, the fire is burning so large and with such force that at one point it had created its own weather pattern, making its path difficult to predict.
10. This ain't your mother's lawn sprinkler
Sprinkler lines are set around the perimeter of a grove of giant sequoias on Sunday. These lines have been keeping water on the iconic Merced and Tuolumne groves of sequoias, which are less than 10 miles from the front lines of the Rim Fire.
11. The wake of destruction and smoke the fire will leave behind
Trees continue to smolder on Sunday. With winds up to 50 mph, smoke is spreading fast, and likely to remain in the area long after the fire is contained.