The scorching Oak fire burning near Yosemite national park has forced more than 3,000 people to evacuate. Now, we’re getting a shocking look at the devastating effects of the raging fire.
What was previously a slow start to the traditional fire season is now back with a vengeance as the Oak fire continues to blaze in California’s Sierra Nevada mountains.
The wildfire has now spread to 17,000 acres since first appearing on Friday.
Fire officials have said “exceptional conditions” ignited the blaze and its “unprecedented” behavior, including casting embers more than a mile from the central part of the fire.
“The fire behavior that we’re seeing on this incident is really unprecedented,” Jon Heggie, a California Fire battalion chief, told CNN. “It’s moving extremely fast, and the reaction time to get people out is limited.”
Unfortunately, the Oak fire isn’t the first wildfire the state has seen in recent weeks. It’s the third fire to burn near Yosemite and is far more extensive than the Washburn fire, which nearly burnt up the state’s giant sequoias.
Oak Fire ignites after high temps, drought and other climate factors make the area ripe for extreme blaze
According to experts, the fire was first fueled by dry winds, parched trees and grass, and soaring temperatures. Now, it’s expanded swiftly through the rugged environment in just a few days.
Additionally, the region has seen nearly two weeks of triple-digit temperatures, paired with low humidity. Moreover, vegetation is nearly at a record high.
At the same time, California is seeing an increase in deadly blazes as the climate crisis creates conditions ripe for fires.
“There was some decent wind yesterday, and we’re in a 1,200-year drought,” Daniel Patterson, a Sierra national forest spokesperson, told the Sacramento Bee. “And all that is the perfect recipe for extreme fire behavior. We have been seeing this in California in recent years.”
In addition, the Oak fire is burning through a region that hasn’t seen fires like this since 1924, said Crystal Kolden, a pyrogeographer at the University of California.
Per Swain, the fire spread significantly in nearly every direction, burning the slopes intensely. While California’s climate is favorable for flames, Indigenous people carefully managed the land long before colonization and set prescribed burns.
However, today, the climate crisis is ushering in rising temperatures. As a result, California has become increasingly vulnerable to extreme burns. In 2020 and 2021, the area saw two of the most devastating fire seasons in its history, with more than 6.8m acres burned and 36 fatalities.
At the same time, the state has seen a grueling drought that experts estimate is the driest 22-year stretch in over 1,000 years. While drought is not unusual for the state, the climate issue is compounding everything and making drought conditions much more extreme.