On February 25, 2014 the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) aboard NASA’s Aqua satellite flew over Indochina and captured this true-color image of fires burning across the landscape.
At this time of year, when fires are widespread, the fires are typically the result of agricultural practices in the region. Fires are often intentionally set to clear ground for planting, or to clean away debris from the previous crop. In Cambodia and Vietnam, fire may also be used to clear the grass from oxcart roads and footpaths or burning pastureland to promote new growth of grasses for livestock. Fires are also sometimes set underneath certain trees (dipterocarp) to increase the yield of resin from the tree, and at times fire has been used to trap wildlife, or chase bees away from a hive to collect honey.
Although most agricultural fires remain under control, they can escape, especially near of the end of the dry season (November – April). Each year wildfires claim a part of the natural hardwood forests, pine forests, bamboo forest and damage forest plantations. The widespread agricultural fires, while important to subsistence farming, create substantial smoke across the region. Such smoke can be harmful to the health of humans and livestock.
In this image, Cambodia sits in the southwest and Vietnam can be seen in the northeast. Heavy clusters of red hotspots, which mark where the thermal sensors on the MODIS instrument identified high temperatures compatible with fire, are found in both countries, especially inland. Some hotspots are also found on the green forest edge. A heavy haze hangs over the entire region, including Thailand, in the northwest.