Laser damage of large fused silica optics initiates at imperfections. Possible initiation mechanisms are considered. We demonstrate that a model based on nanoparticle explosions is consistent with the observed initiation craters. Possible mechanisms for growth upon subsequent laser irradiation, including material modification and laser intensification, are discussed. Large aperture experiments indicate an exponential increase in damage size with number of laser shots. Physical processes associated with this growth and a qualitative explanation of self-accelerated growth is presented. Rapid growth necessitates damage growth mitigation techniques. Several possible mitigation techniques are mentioned, with special emphasis on CO2 processing. Analysis of material evaporation, crack healing, and thermally induced stress are presented.© (2002) COPYRIGHT SPIE--The International Society for Optical Engineering. Downloading of the abstract is permitted for personal use only.