A combination of a record dry spring and sparks — from a flurry of lightning strikes in late June to the bullet that is believed to have sparked the fire near Mariposa — get most of the blame.
But they come atop a pair of more persistent problems: the unnaturally dense buildup of scrub and forest left by decades of fire suppression and the inexorable incursion of people, with their ignition sources and property to be protected, into previously forested areas. Add that all up and you have a lot of charred ground.
About 1.1 million acres have burned in
Climate experts say some of the conditions that set the stage for this year's fires are likely to repeat more frequently as the climate continues to warm. The record dryness in March, April and May is consistent with predictions that from the central Sierra north — or from Yosemite to
"This year furnishes an example of what future years might tend to look like," said Kelly Redmond, regional climatologist at the
An MH-60S Seahawk helicopter dumps water from a 420-gallon extinguishing trough October 23, 2007, onto of one of the many burning areas in California's San Diego County. Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Chris Fahey, U.S. Navy, Wikimedia Commons