Images of the Rim Fire Show the Story of What Will be One of the Three Largest Wildfires in California History

By Tom Yulsman | September 3, 2013 5:27 pm

Before and after Landsat-8 images of California’s Rim Fire. (Images: U.S. Geological Survey)

California’s Rim Fire may be 70 percent contained as of today, but this beast of a blaze is predicted to elude full containment until the end of the month, according to the latest report from Inciweb.

When all is said and done, the fire is almost inevitably going to be at least the third largest wildfire in California history. At 235,841 acres right now it’s already fourth on the list. And once it grows by a bit less than 5,000 acres, it will move into third place.

With this in mind, I thought it would be a good time to compare before and after satellite images of the region. For this post, I chose Landsat-8 images. The first one in the animated gif above was acquired on April 25th of this year, and the second just this past Saturday, Aug. 31st.

The reddish scar in the second image shows what has already burned. And I’ve marked one edge of the fire zone where active burning was still occurring as of Aug. 31. (If you look closely you can see bright orange spots indicative of fire there.)

As you’re looking at the burn scar, you might consider a geographic comparison to help you get a handle on its size: It is now more than one and a half times the size of the City of Chicago.

Upwards of 4,500 people have been working to make sure the blaze doesn’t get much larger than that, including brave air crews of the California National Guard, who have been dropping fire retardant from slow-moving aircraft at low level. That will be the subject of my next post. So make sure to look for that.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Remote Sensing, select, Top Posts, Wildfire


ImaGeo is a visual blog focusing on the intersection of imagery, imagination and Earth. It focuses on spectacular visuals related to the science of our planet, with an emphasis (although not an exclusive one) on the unfolding Anthropocene Epoch.

About Tom Yulsman

Tom Yulsman is Director of the Center for Environmental Journalism and a Professor of Journalism at the University of Colorado, Boulder. He also continues to work as a science and environmental journalist with more than 30 years of experience producing content for major publications. His work has appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, Audubon, Climate Central, Columbia Journalism Review, Discover, Nieman Reports, and many other publications. He has held a variety of editorial positions over the years, including a stint as editor-in-chief of Earth magazine. Yulsman has written one book: Origins: the Quest for Our Cosmic Roots, published by the Institute of Physics in 2003.


See More


Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!

Collapse bottom bar