In late August, 2012, heavy smoke rose from fires southwest of Lake Gregory, Western Australia. The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) aboard NASA’s Terra satellite flew over the region on August 19 and captured this true-color image that same day. MODIS imagery first captured the blaze on August 19, and all evidence of an active burn was gone by August 20.
Multiple red boxes mark “hotspots”, which are areas where the thermal detectors on the MODIS instrument recorded temperatures higher than background. Combined with smoke, such hotspots are strong indicators of fire. Hotspots can be seen in a circular pattern, ringing the edges of a dark area, which represents a burn scar. A line of hotspots also appear further south of the ring. Heavy, dark gray smoke rises from the fire and blows to the north and west.
Given the short duration of the burn, the time of year, and the lack of any report of bushfires in the region by either local news or the Fire and Emergency Services Authority of Western Australia (FESA), the burn is likely a controlled burn. Controlled burns are a management tool used to reduce the amount of ground vegetation during the cooler months, when brushfire risk is low, primarily to minimize the risk severe damage by wild brushfires occurring in the warmer, dryer season. Controlled burning can also help maintain biodiversity and assists with the management of vegetation.
The Lake Gregory region is an important area for biodiversity and wildlife. Lake Gregory itself has been recognized by an Important Bird Area (IBA) by BirdLife International. The lake regularly supports more than 1% of the world population of at least 10 bird species, including Gray Teal, Brolga and Oriental Plover. It is also provides habitat for the near threatened Australian Bustard.