People come to Yosemite National Park expecting awe-inspiring views and great camping amidst the park’s granite peaks and forested lowlands. In September 2014, some visitors got much more than that.
A small wildfire had been burning in Yosemite for weeks before it suddenly quadrupled in size in early September due to strong winds and high temperatures. Park authorities needed helicopters to evacuate dozens of visitors from back-country locations on September 7, 2014, including 85 climbers airlifted from the summit of Half Dome and approximately 100 hikers picked up from campgrounds in Little Yosemite Valley. Several people posted photographs of the evacuation to social media sites as they were being ferried away.
A NASA satellite orbiting 725 kilometers (450 miles) overhead captured images of the Meadow fire from above on September 7, 2014. The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Aqua satellite captured the top image of wildfire activity in Little Yosemite Valley. Red outlines indicate hot spots where MODIS detected the unusually warm land surface temperatures associated with fires. The lower image was taken by Yosemite National Park staff on September 7, 2014. Half Dome is on the left, with a smoke plume rising from Little Yosemite Valley to its right.
Lightning first ignited the Meadow fire on July 20. For several weeks, park officials let the small, high-altitude (8,000 feet or 2,440 meters) blaze burn in order to preserve the park’s natural fire patterns and because it posed no threat to public safety, according to The Los Angeles Times. Indeed, the fire had burned just 19 acres (8 hectares) over the first 49 days.
Then winds surged on September 7 and the Meadow fire suddenly flared up. By September 8, the fire had charred 2,582 acres (1,044 hectares). Though it is large enough to provoke dramatic photographs from the ground, the fire is small compared to California’s largest fires. For comparison, the Happy Camp Complex fire in northern California has burned more than 99,000 acres and was only partly contained as of the same date.
NASA image courtesy Jeff Schmaltz, LANCE/EOSDIS MODIS Rapid Response Team at NASA GSFC. Photo courtesy of Yosemite National Park. Caption by Adam Voiland.