Alex Wigglesworth, LOS ANGELES TIMES
The two fires started just 17 miles apart in the rugged terrain of California’s western Sierra Nevada — but their outcomes couldn’t have been more different.
The Washburn fire, which ignited July 7 along a forested trail in Yosemite National Park, was nearly contained, with no damage to structures or to the famed Mariposa Grove of giant sequoias.
But the Oak fire, which sparked almost two weeks later in the foothills near Midpines, confounded firefighters as it exploded to four times the size of Washburn and forced thousands to flee as it destroyed at least 106 homes. At times, the wildfire’s smoke plume could be seen from space.
Why was one fire so much more destructive?
Experts attribute the difference to variations in weather, vegetation and topography. The management history of each landscape also played a role: Yosemite boasts decades of active stewardship, including prescribed burns, while areas outside the park bear a legacy of industrial logging and fire suppression.
The Washburn fire started along a trail on the edge of the Mariposa Grove, just downhill from the road used by shuttle buses to ferry tourists from a parking lot.