The Rim Fire, the massive wildfire that began on August 17th near Yosemite National Park, has already taken a devastating toll on the landscape. According to the Los Angeles Times, the fire has claimed at least 179,000 acres as of Tuesday, and is one of the largest fires in state history. Most of that area is relegated to the Stanislaus forest, but about 21,000 acres of the western portion of Yosemite have now been blackened.
Even with more than 3,600 firefighters working to contain the blaze, which is producing flame walls up to 200 feet high, officials said that it was only 20 percent contained as of Tuesday morning. Though the fire was heading in the direction of the park, the blaze is still 20 miles away from the Yosemite Valley, and a spokesman for the park said that there was no imminent danger of any kind. That, however, has not stopped California governor Jerry Brown from declaring a state of emergency and requesting FEMA funds.
The International Space Station passed over the wildfire on Sunday, and astronaut Karen Nyberg tweeted out a photo of the blackened geography.
Our orbit took us directly over California's Rim Fire about an hour ago. Devastating. August 26. pic.twitter.com/sCYXZPZTWq— Karen L. Nyberg (@AstroKarenN) August 26, 2013
These images, also released by NASA and taken by the Suomi NPP satellite, show how the fire has creeped into the park over the last several days.
Though the ecological effect of this blaze has yet to be determined, experts noted that wildfires at—at least before humans began causing them—were beneficial to the ecosystem. Even if that's small comfort to those humans who lost structures (about 23 so far) to the flames.
Insects, including a native beetle with infrared receptors to detect fire, eat the blackened trees. The bugs attract birds. The new growth that sprouts after a fire provides forage for deer and bears. Spotted owls will use stands that escaped the fire as a bedroom and use the burn area as a kitchen as small mammals move in.