Crews battle huge wildfire raging in Yosemite area

6:34 a.m. on August 26, 2013 (EDT)
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10:25 a.m. on August 26, 2013 (EDT)
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Getting awful close to the park.

11:16 a.m. on August 26, 2013 (EDT)
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Visibility around here has ranged from 1/2 to 2 miles for a week from the smoke. The Rim Fire is in heavy over-grown timber, very rough topography and at the worst time of year. It will be weeks for any progress to be made or a major weather change. So far 215 square miles have been burned.

Several stands of sequoias outside the Park are being threatened. That species is probably the most fire resistant of all western forest trees.

This is the price that we pay as a society for years of fire suppression and reduced harvest levels. It is especially difficult to do any commercial logging in California. Do not believe people that tell you that fires are worse and more frequent due to things like global warming. It is a function of management. Forests in the US are over-grown and we need to play catch up in order to decrease the fire risk.

 

8:16 p.m. on August 27, 2013 (EDT)
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no, fires are not caused by global warming! the reason this one is so intense is that area hasn't been harvested for decades. its a mess in there.

10:36 a.m. on August 28, 2013 (EDT)
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I hiked thru part of that area in April on my trip up to Smith Peak in Yosemite near Hetch Hetchy.  Significant parts of the areas I hiked thru had been burned before and were still recovering.  From the latest maps it seems pretty much the whole area now (plus much more) has been impacted by the Rim fire.

The area is hot and very dry, with lots of thick undergrowth, so no surprise that it's burning quickly.

10:59 a.m. on August 28, 2013 (EDT)
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The fire has burned a portion of the Park in the sw corner. The area around Hetch-Hetchy Res is full of granite boulders with little fuel. The fire is now around 275 square miles. Forecasted weather is favorable with higher humidity, less wind and a chance of showers.  Visibility today is about one mile.

12:50 p.m. on August 28, 2013 (EDT)
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My son, the atmospheric scientist, sent me this overlay of the Rim Fire onto the SFBay area, using data from his instrumentation on one of the weather satellites. It is as large as the Chicago area.
YosRimFire.png

I was intending to be in that area this week, plus at the annual Pinecrest Climb-in in 3 weeks, just to the northeast of the active fire area. The northwestern extension of the fire area is right up to Hetch Hetchy reservoir, the reservoir that supplies much of the water to the SFBay Area (and specifically our water here in Palo Alto), plus the power generation for the City of San Francisco (the power plants are currently out of service, but power is being bought from another part of the grid). Hetch Hetchy is in the northwestern part of the park (not southwestern). Pinecrest is only about 12 miles from the northern edge of the fire, much less than the flame front has already progressed, still only a bit over 20% contained. The smoke plume extends north well beyond Lake Tahoe and Reno.

10:04 p.m. on August 28, 2013 (EDT)
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Here is several videos from the Rim Fire. The area we are to be in in 3 weeks in just south of Pinecrest and Strawberry (you can click on Strawberry on the map).

Oh, wait! The Climb-in at Pinecrest is only 2 weeks away! Where did August go? Where did the Summer go?

I have a suspicion we might not have the climb-in this year.

12:07 p.m. on August 29, 2013 (EDT)
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The fire is now around 315 square miles, but the weather has improved. Fuel loading is lighter along the fire front now. Maybe several week to containment or maybe when it rains.

The west side of Yosemite is on fire.

 

7:02 p.m. on August 29, 2013 (EDT)
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LH5081_RimFireSmokeySun_900x571.jpg

Strawberry Sun 
Image Credit & CopyrightLaurie Hatch

Explanation: This striking, otherworldy scene really is a view from planet Earth. The ochre sky and strawberry red sun were photographed on August 22nd near the small village of Strawberry, California, USA. Found along Highway 108, that location is about 30 miles north of the origin of California's large Rim Fire, still threatening areas in and around Yosemite National Park. The extensive smoke plumes from the wildfire are easilyvisible from space. But seen from within the plumes, the fine smoke particles suspended in the atmosphere dim the Sun, scattering blue light and strongly coloring the sky.

From Thursday 8/29/13 Astronomy picture of the day website.

7:15 p.m. on August 29, 2013 (EDT)
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And another interesting bit of news about fighting the fire:

http://news.yahoo.com/calif-launches-drone-aid-wildfire-battle-211622327.html

3:39 p.m. on August 30, 2013 (EDT)
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People are starting to wear masks around town due to the smoke. It has been ten days now and people are complaining all the time. Better weather and a possible W wind on the horizon.

12:16 a.m. on August 31, 2013 (EDT)
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12:11 p.m. on August 31, 2013 (EDT)
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Gasry,

Thanks for the video. The fire is so large it is hard to see much of it at one time from the ground. First clearing of smoke in 10 dyas todya. We can see our beloved mountains again.

The Rim Fire is approaching two recent fire scars which should reduce the fuel loading a lot  to the north. Weather continues to be somewhat better. Containment likely in 2-4 weeks.

 

4:54 p.m. on August 31, 2013 (EDT)
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During a news conference today, one of the officials said the cause of the fire is still unconfirmed, but it is not lightning caused. It was of human origin, possibly a campfire, probably in conjunction with a large pot farm. The forests in that region of the Sierra have many large pot farms, most run by the Mexican cartels, tended by well-armed illegal immigrants brought in for the purpose by the cartels.

The wind shift pushed the smoke into the Central Valley, giving the Lake Tahoe and Reno area a bit of relief.

Still not clear if the Climb-in will go. It is less than 2 weeks off and that side of Calif 108 up to Pinecrest is under evacuation orders and closed to entry except by residents.

12:21 a.m. on September 1, 2013 (EDT)
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fires_mccolgan_960.jpg

Fire on Earth 
Image Credit: (AFSBLM)

Explanation: Sometimes, regions of planet Earth light up with fire. Since fire is the rapid acquisition of oxygen, and since oxygen is a key indicator of life, fire on any planet would be an indicator of life on that planet. Most of the Earth's land has been scorched by fire at some time in the past. Although causing many a tragedy, for many places on Earth fire is considered part of a natural ecosystem cycle. Large forest fires on Earth are usually caused by lightning and can be visible from orbitAbove, in the year 2000, stunned elk avoid a fire sweeping through Montana's Bitterroot Valley by standing in a river.

7:37 p.m. on September 1, 2013 (EDT)
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The last few days we have had a pall of smoke over the San Joaquin Valley, which means areas north got a break.  Today isn't as bad, so things may be shifting again.  I could smell the smoke at work in Fresno the other day, and that is a fair distance from the fire.  I live in Visalia, about 100 miles from the fire, and the first clue to the size for me was how much smoke we have received from it.

10:32 a.m. on September 2, 2013 (EDT)
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The cause of the fire is irrelevant. With current conditions wildland fires are caused by things like welding, catalytic converters in dried grass, disposal of wood ashes and even target shooting.

5:00 p.m. on September 2, 2013 (EDT)
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the fact that it is human caused is significant. this is not a natural caused fire. the bill for fighting this thing is already in the tens of millions of dollars.

11:14 a.m. on September 3, 2013 (EDT)
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Jester,

The impact is the same.

2:56 p.m. on September 3, 2013 (EDT)
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The cause IS relevant. Especially to those who police pot farms in the back country. If indeed this is pot farm related as it is currently suspected. The impact of the fire may seem the same to you, but if you look beyond your nose the impact of the farm's existence has far reaching effects that a lightning strike would not have. Crime, human trafficking. People doing illegal things in the forest being addressed means fewer exposure to hot shot teams etc. The cause matters. Everything in a fire matters.

10:04 a.m. on September 4, 2013 (EDT)
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When firefighting gets slow, we can always rely on firefighters for some arson to pick up the pace. Lightning is not going to go away. Those are two of the reasons the cause of fires is not very important. Arson is an under-reported reality most people do not like to deal with.

The management issues are overzealous fire suppression for 100 years, and under-harvesting. Those two factors make forests in the US much more susceptible to fires than they should be. All it takes is target shooting. The spark from a lead bullet against a rock is all it takes sometimes to start wildland fires.

5:12 p.m. on September 4, 2013 (EDT)
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Big fires are often caused by poor fire management in and of themselves.

When the FFMC (Fine Fuel Moisture Code) is above 92, which it currently is in your part of the world, the forest becomes explosive and the smallest spark can ignite it. Combine this with a high BUI (Build Up Index) and ladder fuels from poor harvesting practices and over suppression of fires and you get the type of scenario you have now. This has all happened before mind you; the 1988 Yellowstone Complex and others. So, whether from lightning or beavers or anthropogenic, the cause is not as important as the effect. With the current fire weather behaviour the same damage would have occurred no matter how it started; it was just a matter of time. In the end though, you will probably have a more fire and disease resistant ecosystem.

7:36 p.m. on September 4, 2013 (EDT)
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North,

Nice post. In the US we are making up for past mistakes by using wildfire for fuels reduction. On the Rim Fire, some of the progress made this week was related to the reduced fuel loading from two old burn scars in the path of the fire. We had a similar scenario in Nevada in the Pine Nut Mtns in July where a large fire burning in pinon and juniper (with flame heights of 150 feet) eventually ran into an old burn scar with less fuel. It wasn't fire supression efforts but a previous fire that saved the day.

I have seen many quantitative indexes for measuring fire danger. I like live fuel moisture. Are FFMC and BUI used in both the US and Canada?

The current USFS (Forest Service) and BLM (Bur of Land Management) budgets for fire supression are around $2 billion. The annual fuel reduction budget is pocket change from passing the hat by comparison.

7:47 p.m. on September 4, 2013 (EDT)
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Still.. the notion of illegal pot farms hidden in the Sierra is quite depressing.  I wonder what ecological impact besides the fire these farms are having on the local areas.  There has to be some sort of pollution caused through pot farming.  Why can't these guys just grow indoors or work with local governments (like they do in Mendocino County) to produce their goods?  Oh, wait.. that's right.. because they're ran by Cartels.

11:07 p.m. on September 4, 2013 (EDT)
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The pot farms have a significant impact.  Earlier this year I was talking with the environmental officer of a local tribe whose reservation runs from the foothills to about 7000'.  She said that they regularly find the farms in very unlikely and difficult to access locations (she said that one recent find had to have been supplied by helicopter).  And at these pot farms they find empty bags for all kinds of pesticides and fertilizers.  You can bet that they don't use these in an environmentally responsible manner.

12:52 p.m. on September 5, 2013 (EDT)
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Legalize pot and the motivation for the remote pot grows on Federal land will disappear.

12:56 p.m. on September 5, 2013 (EDT)
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Turns out it was hunters, not pot farmers.  That probably changed the discussion down at the grange 8p

4:59 p.m. on September 5, 2013 (EDT)
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What hunting season is open on Aug. 17? Maybe doves. Why would anyone ibuild a fire in August in Calif outside of a campground?

7:05 p.m. on September 5, 2013 (EDT)
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ppine said:

What hunting season is open on Aug. 17? Maybe doves. Why would anyone ibuild a fire in August in Calif outside of a campground?

You said it yourself, ppine, even a hot muffler on an ATV or a bullet bouncing off a rock could start a fire under the conditions North describes. 

7:54 p.m. on September 5, 2013 (EDT)
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ppine said:

What hunting season is open on Aug. 17? Maybe doves. Why would anyone ibuild a fire in August in Calif outside of a campground?

 SF Gate article I read mentioned deer hunting being popular this time of year in the area. No idea if that is true, just what I read.

As for why they lit an illegal fire and then let it get out of control? Some folks is idjits!!

10:24 p.m. on September 5, 2013 (EDT)
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And you trust SF newspapers with anything related to hunting?  Those folks don't even know what a gun looks like, except for the evil black ones that they want to ban.

Deer season has not started yet.  As has been stated, dove season just started, but I would be very very surprised if anyone was dove hunting where this fire started.  Dove hunting is pretty much a valley affair.

12:35 a.m. on September 6, 2013 (EDT)
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I am beginning to believe an unemployed firefighter started it! :)

12:54 a.m. on September 6, 2013 (EDT)
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The fire was started by a hunter, who built an illegal campfire (in an area where open flames are not permitted). According to the evening news, he is in custody. CalFire (California Division of Fires and Forestry) stated that 90% of wildfires are human caused, the majority of which involve illegal activities (campfires, burns on no-burn days, and similar activities in restricted areas).

Of the hundreds of wildfires in California every year, there are typically no more than 1 or 2 involving a firefighter looking for more work. There are more than enough caused by illegal campfires, trash burning on no-burn days, and just plain carelessness.

1:00 a.m. on September 6, 2013 (EDT)
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Being a hunter and hunting legally are sometimes two different things.

10:20 a.m. on September 6, 2013 (EDT)
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lambertiana said:

And you trust SF newspapers with anything related to hunting?  Those folks don't even know what a gun looks like, except for the evil black ones that they want to ban.

Deer season has not started yet.  As has been stated, dove season just started, but I would be very very surprised if anyone was dove hunting where this fire started.  Dove hunting is pretty much a valley affair.

The D-6 archery hunt started the same day as the fire.  That means that you now have less credibility on the subject than the SF Gate. I'll let you decide how you want to deal with that.

2:29 p.m. on September 6, 2013 (EDT)
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LoneStranger said:

lambertiana said:

And you trust SF newspapers with anything related to hunting?  Those folks don't even know what a gun looks like, except for the evil black ones that they want to ban.

Deer season has not started yet.  As has been stated, dove season just started, but I would be very very surprised if anyone was dove hunting where this fire started.  Dove hunting is pretty much a valley affair.

The D-6 archery hunt started the same day as the fire.  That means that you now have less credibility on the subject than the SF Gate. I'll let you decide how you want to deal with that.

 I will deal with it more graciously than some have...

I stand corrected, I was thinking of the rifle season.  I did not know that the archery season had already started.

3:34 p.m. on September 6, 2013 (EDT)
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Bow season generally starts a couple weeks before rifle and continues through rifle.

11:46 a.m. on September 7, 2013 (EDT)
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Aside from the obvious damage including the loss of numerous buildings / homes / businesses, ... this hasn't been a good year for JMT and PCT thru-hikers.  Earlier in the summer there was lots of smoke from the Aspen fire further south.  There were also a number of smaller fires that created "impactful" smoke.  The Rim fire  has obviously created vast amounts of smoke (though most of it has gone north-easterly, not near the JMT).

On top of that, some hikers needing to get back to their starting point on the JMT may be stuck since Hwy 120 across Yosemite has been closed due to the Rim fire.

Anyway as far as that hunter goes ... I hate to think what he/she must be feeling now.  I don't know how one could live with themselves after starting a fire like this, even though it was accidental.  Regardless of the outcome of any pending legal proceedings, this is something that will haunt them for the rest of their life.

1:02 p.m. on September 7, 2013 (EDT)
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So sad.  I know people love their campfires.. but PLEASE OBEY CAMPFIRE BANS esp in California in a dry year!  (I know I know.. I'm preaching to the choir here...)

6:18 p.m. on September 8, 2013 (EDT)
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well, at least it wasn't an unemployed firefighter! I hope this guy gets jail time.

3:56 p.m. on September 9, 2013 (EDT)
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5:16 p.m. on September 10, 2013 (EDT)
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I was working the summer of 88 in Jackson Hole and its was so smokey even down it town 50 miles from the closest Yellowstone fires one could not see across the road. I worked JH every summer from 1981-2008.

November 27, 2014
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