Out-of-control bushfires raced into small communities and towns in Victoria, Australia causing the reported deaths of more than 100 people as of February 9, 2009. The smoke from the fires blew eastward over the Tasman Sea, reaching as far east as New Zealand. This image was captured on February 8 by the MODIS on the Aqua satellite. Our smaller image here is cropped. If you view the higher resolution image, you can see the smoke extending over New Zealand.
Fire is a regular occurrence in the forests and grasslands of southeastern Australia, even in the absence of people. In the hot, dry summer months, vegetation dries out; lightning triggers many natural wildfires. However, in the past decade, the area has experienced several severe droughts, and in late January and early February, parts of South Australia, Victoria, and New South Wales were also paralyzed by an exceptional heatwave. Conditions were primed for devastating fires, some of which appear to have been started by lighting and others, according to news reports, by arson. The event was the worst fire disaster in Australia’s history.