Jul 23, 2022 - Energy & Environment

Wildfire sees "explosive" growth near Yosemite, prompts evacuations

Satellite image of the Oak Fire and its smoke filling the area in and near Yosemite National Park.

Satellite image of smoke from the Oak Fire near California's Yosemite National Park, marked in red, on July 23. Photo: CIRA/RAMMB

A wildfire that ignited Friday rapidly grew to 6,555 acres through Saturday morning in the Midpines area of Mariposa County, California, on the outskirts of Yosemite National Park.

Why it matters: The wildfire is burning amid hot and dry conditions during a long-running, extreme drought in the area, and it has already destroyed 10 structures, damaged five more and threatens 2,000 more, per Cal Fire.

The big picture: The fire underwent "explosive growth" on Saturday and Saturday night, according to Cal Fire, with a plume of smoke towering to at least 25,000 feet in the air.

  • “Fire activity is extreme with frequent runs, spot fires and group torching,” Cal Fire stated on its website. “Emergency personnel are working to safely evacuate people and are actively engaged in protecting structures. Explosive fire behavior is challenging firefighters.”
  • The drought gripping the state and much of the West, along with high tree mortality in the area and a lack of recent major fires there is providing abundant fuel for the flames.

Threat level: The blaze is not only threatening homes and businesses but is also filling the Yosemite area with hazardous smoke, reducing visibility within the national park.

What's next: The blaze is one of the first significant destructive wildfires of the season in California. Unusually high temperatures and few prospects for rainfall are forecast through mid-August, indicating wildfires may ramp up.

Context: Climate change from the burning of fossil fuels and other factors is increasing the odds and severity of droughts and heat waves, including the ongoing event in the West. Extreme fire weather conditions are also becoming more common.

  • California has seen its largest and most destructive blazes in history during the past decade, as global warming combines with land management practices to tip the scales in favor of megafires.
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