After a dramatic growth spurt this week, a wildfire burning in California's Yosemite National Park forced hikers to evacuate and produced a billowing veil of smoke that can be seen from space.
NASA's Earth-watching Aqua satellite saw Yosemite aflame on Sunday (Sept. 7) from its perch 450 miles (725 kilometers) above the planet. The image, released today (Sept. 9) by NASA's Earth Observatory and acquired by Aqua's Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS), shows the smoke plume from the so-called Meadow Fire.
When the wildfire was sparked by lightning several weeks ago, it wasn't an immediate cause for concern. In its first 49 days, the blaze had charred just 19 acres (8 hectares) of forest. However, strong winds swept through the area this month, causing the flames to spread. By Sunday (Sept. 7), the fire had burned 400 acres (162 hectares). As of yesterday (Sept. 8), the fire had burned 2,582 acres (1,044 hectares), according to the National Park Service. [See Photos of Another Fire that Scorched Yosemite]
This week, rescue crews had to airlift 85 people from the summit of the Half Dome, Yosemite's iconic granite formation that rises almost 5,000 feet (1,524 meters) above the valley floor. Another 100 hikers and backpackers were also evacuated from Little Yosemite Valley, where the fire is burning on both sides of the Merced River, according to the National Park Service. Trails in the area have been closed and park officials warned that the fire could degrade air quality in the region as smoke drains into Yosemite Valley.
The Meadow Fire has proven to be a dramatic subject for photographers on the ground, too. Yosemite National Park staff members have posted photos of the orange flames glowing along the reserve's granite ridges at night as well as images of smoke columns rising in the background of the Half Dome during the day.
Despite its dramatic growth, the fire is still quite small compared to others that have scorched this part of California. Around this time last year, firefighters were battling a much bigger blaze in and around Yosemite National Park. Dubbed the Rim Fire, it was the largest forest fire on record in the Sierra Nevada. That fire quickly spread after it was sparked by a hunter's campfire on Aug. 17, 2013, in the Stanislaus National Forest, next to Yosemite. By the time the flames were contained in late September, about 257,134 acres or 402 square miles (1,041 square kilometers) of land had been burned.