The Rim Fire burning near Yosemite National Park in California's Sierra Nevada Mountains ranks among the state's top ten largest wildfires on record, closing in on the 200,000 acre mark -- an area about two-thirds the size of the city of Los Angeles. Firefighters have been battling this blaze since Aug. 17, and recently they have caught a break in weather conditions, as the fire's staggering rate of growth has slowed, and it is 30 percent contained, up from the single digits earlier in the week.
This series of time-lapse videos of the Rim Fire was taken by employees of Yosemite National Park. Showing the wildfire's behavior during the day and at night, the videos make the fire appear to be a living, breathing creature, and an eerily beautiful one at that. The videos help remind us that, despite the destruction they cause, wildfires are a natural part of forest ecosystems, and indeed are necessary for ecosystem health in many parts of the West.
The fire, which is just one of many large blazes currently burning across the West, has been aided by drought conditions, as California has experienced its driest year-to-date on record. The Sierra Nevada Mountains had below average snowfall last winter, and the snow that did fall melted earlier than usual, allowing vegetation to dry out starting in the spring. Other factors have also contributed to this massive blaze as well as others, including the U.S. government's long history of suppressing even small wildfires in Western forests, which inadvertently allowed for a gradual buildup of fuels for fires to burn.
In addition, increasing temperatures and drought conditions, along with earlier spring snowmelt, is amplifying the risk of large wildfires in the West, and contributing to a sharp uptick in large fires. According to Climate Central research, in some states, such as Idaho and Arizona, the number of large fires burning on U.S. Forest Service land each year has tripled or even quadrupled since the early 1970s. In other states, such as California and Wyoming, the number of large fires has doubled.
According to reporting from the Los Angeles Times, officials expect to have the Rim Fire under control in two weeks, depending on weather conditions, although it may be far longer before it is completely put out.