By SADIE PARKER, age 11

The Yosemite Rim Fire started on August 17, because of a hunter’s fire that escaped, destroying 400 square miles of land and more than 100 homes. PHOTO: Mike McMillan - USFS
The Yosemite Rim Fire started on August 17, because of a hunter’s fire that escaped, destroying 400 square miles of land and more than 100 homes. PHOTO: Mike McMillan – USFS

A huge wildfire swept through Yosemite National Park in California last summer, raining ash on San Francisco’s water supply and shocking the nation. The Yosemite Rim Fire started on August 17, because of a hunter’s fire that escaped, destroying 400 square miles of land and more than 100 homes.

Stacy Geer, a mother who left her home just outside of the park in Twain Harte, for a shelter that the Red Cross set up for Rim Fire victims. She described life in the shelter to USA Today saying, “Last night was hard. The kids couldn’t really sleep with the lights and the noise. But it’s much better than being at home and stressed out about the smoke.”

In addition to destroying land and homes, forest fires hurt people’s health. Wildfire smoke creates little sparks of soot that get in your lungs and can damage your heart.

Such massive fires are also expensive. The Yosemite Rim Fire, which burned for more than two months, cost California $100 million in firefighting services, road and trail recovery and environmental damage.

The Yosemite Rim Fire, which burned for more than two months, cost California $100 million in firefighting services, road and trail recovery and environmental damage. PHOTO: Mike McMillan - USFS
The Yosemite Rim Fire, which burned for more than two months, cost California $100 million in firefighting services, road and trail recovery and environmental damage. PHOTO: Mike McMillan – USFS

Even though fires are scary and they cause enormous damage, there are some positive facts about fires. Prescribed fires, also known as controlled burns, are when experts burn bushes and weeds to provide clean and healthy soil for farming or to promote new forest growth.

But prescribed fire is not wildfire, and there have been more forest fires recently than ever before. Scientists say this is because of climate change. In 1992 there were 12,047 forest fires in California. In 2012, there were 47,991 fires. Climate change raises temperatures and causes drought,* making it easier for fires to start. “The forest is much more flammable,” Matthew Hurteau, assistant professor of ecosystem science and management at Pennsylvania State University, said to Mother Jones magazine.

“Lots of people think climate change and the ecological responses are 50 to 100 years away,” said researcher Thomas W. Swetnam, director of the Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research at The University of Arizona in Tucson to Science Daily. “But it’s not 50 to 100 years away — it’s happening now in forest ecosystems through fire.”

*drought: when an area experiences a longer than usual period of time without rain, drying out plants and soil.