For more than two months the Rim Fire burned through the Sierra Nevada Mountains, scorching 257,135 acres (402 square miles) before finally being nearly completely contained in late September, 2013.
Despite 92% containment – which basically means to keep a fire within an establish boundary – ground fires still burned in brushy areas and within Stanislaus National forest as late as October 5. Of special concern are the smoldering stumps, as fires burning deep roots can remain underground all winter, protected from snow, only to re-ignite in the spring.
The Rim Fire ignited on August 17, and came to the attention of fire crews when a spotter in an airplane saw a smoke column rising near the Clavey and Tuolomne Rivers. Due to dry conditions and high winds, the fire grew rapidly, burning about 100,000 acres within three days. Extreme fire events, such as trees exploding as fire reached the crown, have been reported, giving rise to estimates of temperatures as high as 1,500 °F.
Most of the damage was done within the Stanislaus National Forest, where over 154,000 acres were destroyed. As the fire moved into Yosemite National Park it consumed over 79,000 acres. The fire also burned over 16,000 acres of Sierra Pacific timberland, 7,600 acres of privately owned land and over 100 acres on Bureau of Land Management owned land. Eleven residences were destroyed, 3 commercial properties, and 98 outbuildings with a cost of approximately $126 million dollars as of September 27. Ten injuries were reported.
The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) aboard NASA’s Aqua satellite flew over the region on September 27 and captured this false-color image of the burn scar of the Rim Fire. In this color combination, vegetation appears bright green, water deep blue, snow and cold, high clouds electric blue, and land appears in varying shades of tan. The burned land within the scar appears as a rusty brown color. Although most of the area within the scar has been burned, patches of green remain, indicating areas that escaped the fire or were lightly burned, likely because they were near water.