By know, nearly everyone has heard or seen photos of the fires raging in and near Yosemite. Yes, we said “fires” as there is more than one fire that has occurred in the past month!
Currently, the fire that is getting all the attention is the Meadow Fire, burning in Little Yosemite Valley, as seen in the above photo.
The fire started on Sunday, Sept. 7; actually it had started months ago on July 19th, when a lightning storm blew through Yosemite. The lightning strike was allowed to smolder, and it did for nearly two months, only growing to less than 20 acres. The National Park Service (NPS) policy is to let small fires smolder as per the natural fire process in the mountains.
But on Sunday, Sept. 7, an unexpected wind storm and high temperatures blew the small spot fire into the larger fire that closed Little Yosemite Valley and the surrounding trails, including the climb up the backside of Half Dome.
In dramatic fashion, four helicopters were enlisted into duty to pull 85 hikers off the top of Half Dome as the fire spread quickly through Little Yosemite Valley. NPS rangers opted to extricate the hikers from the top of Half Dome instead of risking them hiking out along or through the fire’s edge.
Above, a helicopter takes off from the top of Half Dome during the evacuation of the 85 hikers.
The fire exploded quickly, going from less than 20 acres to over 2,600 acres by the next morning. The plume of smoke was so large, it could be seen from space:
The fire’s rapid spread was due to an unusual wind event on Sunday. Several fire experts noted that the location of the smoldering lighting strike and the flare-up that exploded into the massive fire that burned through Little Yosemite Valley were not exactly near each other. The lighting strike was at 8,000-feet in elevation and park officials were letting it burn at a slow pace. The flare-up started 3,000-feet below in Little Yosemite Valley. It is believed that the winds stoked the smoldering fire and blew embers down to the 3,000-foot flare-up location.
The time-lapse below shows the winds stoking the original lightning strike fire, and then the spot fire below exploding into the blaze that raced across Little Yosemite Valley.
As of today, Thursday, Sept. 11, the Meadow Fire in Little Yosemite Valley has burned 4,900 acres and is at 23% containment. Some of the back-country trails in Little Yosemite Valley have reopened, including the trail to the base of Half Dome. The cable route up the back side of the iconic landmark will reopen on Saturday.
Park officials are warning that air quality in Yosemite Valley, the main tourist destination, can be reach the unhealthy range due to smoke blowing down into the valley, as seen in the photo at left from the Yosemite Conservancy web cam located at Sentinel Dome, looking east toward Half Dome, seen through the smoke.
NPS officials stated in the latest fire updated: “Visible smoke in the early-morning hours may be present in and around Yosemite Valley and the Half Dome hike. Visitors who are sensitive to smoke should consider rescheduling their hike to Half Dome or their visit to Yosemite National Park.”
Additional updates from Yosemite NPS include:
- •Last night’s infrared flight showed significant heat around the north and southeast areas of the fire. Due today’s increased temperatures and low relative humidity, spots outside the current fires perimeter are expected to flare. Fire crews may see individual or group tree torching.
- •Due to the extremely steep, rugged and inaccessible terrain, some fire crews are being flown into the area by helicopter. Air resources, including seven helicopters are being utilized along the fire-line to slow the forward progress of the fire and to cool down hot spots. Due to the potential fire growth and extensive amount of work which remains, a high commitment of resources will be required.
- • The fire continues to burn through popular hiking areas in Yosemite National Park and trail closures still remain in effect.
NOT THE ONLY FIRE BURNING IN/NEAR YOSEMITE
What many might not realize, is that this is the fourth fire to strike in or near the park in the last two months. In late July, the El Portal fire, started by power lines, erupted from the community of El Portal on Hwy. 140 and roared up the Merced River Canyon, through the community of Foresta (home to many NPS & concessionaire employees) before finally halting, near the edge of last year’s devastating Rim Fire.
In late August, a fire erupted in the Yosemite border town of Oakhurst, on the southern entry into the park on Hwy. 41, blazing through the commercial district just north of the town and across the highway. The highway was closed and entrance into the park was halted for several days.
And while the Meadow Fire is burning in Little Yosemite Valley, another fire is burning on the park’s western edge between the communities of Mariposa and Oakhurst. Called the Bridge Fire, this blaze has slowed and has nearly full containment, but several hundred homes are still under mandatory evacuation as the fire burns east toward the park.
WILL THESE FIRES AFFECT THE WORKSHOPS?
In short, no.
First off, as safety is paramount to all of our workshop operations, at no time will a workshop student be put in harms way, either through flames or smoke. Our upcoming October workshops (Yosemite B&W and two sections of Adavanced Photography: The Zen of Thinking) will be near the smoke concerns for the fire, IF the fire still continues to burn. Locations for the workshops will be addressed on a day-to-day basis, but at this time — with the workshops still several weeks out — we do not see the fires impacting the workshops in any way.
And while the fire’s devastation might seem unfathomable, do note that fire is critical and natural process that is key to the forest’s health. This is why the NPS policy is to let fires burn until public safety or health is possibly compromised. Some fire’s can turn into roaring monsters, such as last year’s Rim Fire, while other fires can smolder for months and provide the healthy burn that is much needed. That is part of the wonders of Mother Nature!