Yosemite fire rages, could burn for months

Rim Fire Burns Near Yosemite National Park
© Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

One of California's largest fires ever is raging near the Yosemite National Park. It has burned more than 225 square miles of forest and is now threatening some 4,500 buildings, as 3,400 firefighters face "every challenge there can be." Officials warn that it could be months before it is 100% contained.

The New York Times reports:

The so-called Rim Fire had burned about 134,000 acres as of late Sunday — about 9,000 acres more than it had the previous day — making it the 14th largest fire since California began keeping records on wildfires in 1932 and the second largest in Tuolumne County.

Officials said that firefighters had contained about 7 percent of the fire, which began just over a week ago, and that it had caused no loss of life or significant property damage. And although the fire has burned some acreage in Yosemite, the most visited area of the park, the Yosemite Valley, is not threatened so far, officials said.

CBS News reports one official saying that firefighters are facing "every challenge that there can be." And, shockingly, that it could be close to winter before the fire is completely under control.

NASA satellite captures yosemite wildfire smoke plume from spaceNASA/Public Domain

The fire is so large, it can now be seen from space:

The NASA photo shows the smoke plume and surface temperatures indicating the location of fire:

Red outlines indicate hot spots where MODIS detected unusually warm surface temperatures associated with fires. Winds blew a thick smoke plume toward the northeast. A smaller fire—American fire—burned to the north.

In addition to the threat to the Giant Sequoia's and Yosemite National Park, the fire is also causing concerns about the drinking water supply for San Francisco.

Ash from the fire is currently falling like snow flakes on the water in the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir, which is the main source of drinking water for 2.6 million people in the Bay Area. Officials say the water is being filtered and is still safe to drink. However, the fire has also caused problems with energy production in the area.

The San Francisco Chronicle reports:

Two of three power production plants downriver from the reservoir had to shut down before the fire swept through, prompting the city to rely on reciprocal agreements with other utilities and to spend about $600,000 buying supplemental power to make up the shortfall, Jue said.

Late last week, the fire doubled in size, according to CNN.

Though no single fire (or storm or flood, etc.) can or should be attributed to climate change alone, there is no doubt that wildfires are connected to climate change. The dry and hot conditions that make wildfires more-likely to occur are caused by global warming. Last month, when asked about climate change deniers, Tom Boatner, the federal government's chief of fire operations, said:

"You won't find them on the fire line in the American west anymore, because we've had climate change beat into us over the last 10 or 15 years. We know what we're seeing and we're dealing with a period of climate in terms of temperature and humidity and drought that is different from anything people have seen in our lifetimes."

As of this writing, there are more than 8,300 firefighters working to contain more than 400 square miles of fire in California alone. And, unfortunately, climate scientists predict this is the new normal and will become even worse unless we work to reverse global warming by reducing greenhouse gas emissions from the burning of fossil fuels.

We'll continue to monitor the fire and update this story as it develops.

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