Extreme drought is fueling wildfires near Yosemite - Earth.com

Extreme drought is fueling wildfires near Yosemite

Today’s Image of the Day from NASA Earth Observatory features a satellite view of California’s Oak Fire, which has burned more than 18,000 acres in the days since it ignited near Yosemite National Park on July 22, 2022.

“For the second time in a month, wildland fires are burning through parched forests near Yosemite National Park. The fast-moving Oak fire in Mariposa County, west of the park, has forced thousands of people to evacuate their homes,” reports NASA.

“The smaller Washburn fire, now mostly contained by firefighters, burned earlier this month in Madera County, along the southern edge of the park. Both have moved through drought-parched forests that are stressed and vulnerable due to climate change.”

The photograph, which was captured on July 24 by the Operational Land Imager-2 (OLI-2) on Landsat 9, shows the Oak fire against a brown landscape that has already been transformed by persistent drought conditions. 

According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, 90 percent of Mariposa and Madera counties are currently experiencing “exceptional” drought, which is the most severe category on the scale.

“By recent standards, both of these ongoing fires are actually on the small side,” said UCLA climatologist Daniel Swain. “Winds have been pretty weak and typical for this time of year, but the Oak fire has still managed to evade control due to extreme vegetation dryness over the long term and hot conditions in the short term.”

“The link between climate change and Western wildfire is very clear at this point. Climate change is causing long-term aridification and supercharging the intensity of shorter-term droughts in this region. It is drying out vegetation well beyond historically observed levels and greatly increasing the flammability of entire landscapes. This leads to more severe fires that tend to burn hotter, spread faster, and cause more harm than lower-intensity fires.”

Image Credit: NASA Earth Observatory 

By Chrissy Sexton, Earth.com Staff Writer

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