August 15, 2012 - Fires and smoke in western United States

Fires and smoke in western United States

After a strong start to the summer wildfire season, the most infamous of which raged through Colorado in June and July 2012, additional western states are feeling the heat. On August 13, 2012, numerous fires blazed across four states, burning through vegetation ranging from sagebrush, to grass, and to beetle-killed lodgepole pine forest in California, Idaho, Nevada, and Oregon.

The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Aqua satellite captured this true-color image of the fires on August 13, 2012. Thick smoke is visible drifting across the region, especially in a broad belt across southern Oregon and Idaho, and northern California, Nevada and Idaho. Red “hot spots” mark where MODIS detected unusually warm surface temperatures associated with fires.

On August 13, three large fires burned through coniferous forests in northern California: the Reading fire in Lassen Volcanic National Park, the Chips fire in Plumas National Forest, and the Fort Complex fire in Klamath National Forest. The largest of the three, the Chips fire had consumed 35,233 acres (14,258 hectares) and was 12 percent contained by that date. The Reading fire had consumed 20,642 acres and was 10 percent contained, whereas the Fort Complex Fire had burned 908 acres and was 7 percent contained. Most of the fires were ignited by lightning, although the cause of the Chips fire was under investigation on this date. Near the California border in Oregon, lightning also sparked the Barry Point fire, which had burned 23,048 acres.

In northern Nevada, the Holloway, Hansen, and Willow fires burned through grass, brush, and sagebrush. The Holloway fire was the largest and had burned 336,152 acres by August 13. The Willow and Hanson fires had burned 49,271 and 14,993 acres respectively. All three were ignited by lightning on August 5.

In Idaho, the Halstead burned through stands of beetle-killed lodgepole pines in Salmon-Challis National Forest. It had consumed 49,322 acres and was 3 percent contained. South of it, the Trinity Ridge fire had burned about 37,044 acres and was 5 percent contained. Lightning ignited the Halstead fire on July 27, whereas human activity started the Trinity Ridge fire.

According to statistics compiled by the National Interagency Fire Center, a total of 5,880,144 acres had burned in the United States through August 13. That was above the ten year average for that date, which was 4,888,974 acres.

Image Facts
Satellite: Aqua
Date Acquired: 8/13/2012
Resolutions: 1km ( B), 500m ( B), 250m ( B)
Bands Used: 1,4,3
Image Credit: Jeff Schmaltz, MODIS Land Rapid Response Team, NASA GSFC