The Rim fire is winding down, now 92% contained at a cost of more than $125 million. But it’s the physical size of the fire that continues to capture the imagination — what does 257,135 acres look like?
Mono Lake, on the east side of the Sierra, has a footprint of 45,000 acres. Lake Tahoe is about 122,000 acres. That’s not a bad comparison if you’ve seen those lakes.
Fellow reporters have resorted to all kinds of comparisons. I recently heard a network news anchor refer to it as a third the size of Rhode Island. Others compare it to the area of Los Angeles or San Francisco.
So this is my attempt at putting the San Joaquin Valley into this picture. I wondered if the fire footprint was big enough to encompass the Valley’s major cities, including Fresno, Bakersfield, Stockton, Modesto and Visalia.
Yes, they would all fit within that footprint.
Bakersfield had the largest physical footprint I found. It is 146.6 square miles, according to the U.S. Census. Fresno, which has a bigger population than Bakersfield, is only 112.3 square miles.
The Rim fire is 402 square miles. And any way you look at it, this is the third largest fire on record in California.
About a month ago, misguided headlines announced 2013 as a sensationally big fire season nationally — some called it the worst season in a decade. As the Rim fire burns in California, I’ve heard the statement made on television.
The Rim fire on a media stage in California
The season has been filled with drama, but it’s not the biggest in a decade nationally. Check it on the National Interagency Fire Center web site.
Total fires and acres burned are both well below the 10-year average. At this rate, the season won’t even match last year.
National Public Radio got it right on Aug. 15 with a story titled: 2013 wildfire season proving to be more mild than wild.
That was two days before the Rim fire started. The Rim is an expensive, sprawling blaze. California, indeed, is having bad fire year, according to Cal Fire. But California hasn’t change the national numbers in a big way.
At the same time, it is still a truly dramatic wildfire year.
The Rim fire in Stanislaus National Forest is one of California’s biggest wildfires on record. It is burning around and in Yosemite National Park. In Arizona, 19 firefighters tragically died in a fierce wildfire. Many homeowners have been in harm’s way as fires have burned this year.
But, unless there’s a lot more burning in the next several weeks, 2013 will not go down nationally as the most extensive wildfire season in a decade — or even the last few years.
The Yosemite Conservancy is raising money to restore damage from the Rim fire, which has charred more than 200,000 acres of wildland in the Stanislaus National Forest and part of Yosemite National park.
The conservancy, a nonprofit dedicated to supporting and improving Yosemite, will use donations to help restore trails, facilities and natural habitat in the region.
“We anticipate that significant work will be needed to restore areas affected in the park once the heroic efforts of firefighters are completed,” said conservancy president Mike Tollefson.
Donations to the Yosemite Fire Restoration Fund can be made online at yosemiteconservancy.org/fire or by mailing a contribution to Yosemite Conservancy, Yosemite Fire Restoration Fund, 101 Montgomery, Suite 1700, San Francisco, CA 94104.
To view areas of the park, visit Yosemite Conservancy’s webcams at http://www.yosemiteconservancy.org/webcams.
Most of Yosemite remains open, smoke free and accessible three entrances — Highway 41, fhe south entrance, and Highway 140, a western entrance, and the east entrance at Tioga Pass. Highway 120 remains closed from the west.
Up-to-date information about the Rim Fire is on the park’s website at: http://www.nps.gov/yose/planyourvisit/rimfire.htm.
Pyrocumulus clouds rising above Groveland near the Rim fire.
So far, the Rim fire at Yosemite National Park’s western doorstep hasn’t smoked out the San Joaquin Valley. Pray the wind doesn’t shift.
If you’ve seen the photographs of the immense pyrocumulus clouds erupting over the Sierra, you know it’s a pretty intense wildfire.
I’ve talked with fire experts who say you can see the clouds for 100 miles in all directions.
Pyrocumulus clouds occur with the high heat of volcanoes and wildfires. They look like cauliflower, rising tens of thousands of feet high with ash and vapor.
This is the biggest fire on the Stanislaus National Forest in a generation, now approaching 180,000 acres. On Tuesday, it ranked as the seventh largest in recorded state history.
The ash has been riding the wind into places north of the fire, such as Reno and Sacramento. In Sacramento, the PM-2.5 — think soot — standard has been breached nine times this month. That’s more than Sacramento has seen in August for the last decade combined.
Meanwhile in the Valley, which sometimes is socked in with wildfire soot, there haven’t been any PM-2.5 breaches in the standard. Keep an eye on the weather and the wind. This fire may hang around through September, I’m told.