The severe wildfire season in the western United States continued through late September, 2012, as major blazes continued to burn across the west. The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) aboard NASA’s Aqua satellite captured this striking clear-sky view of fires across the region on September 13, 2012.
Fires can be seen burning in Washington, Oregon, western Montana and Idaho, with the largest cluster found in central Idaho. Smoke from the fires can be seen filling valleys, especially in Idaho, and curling northwestward then southwestward, creating a long river of smoke flowing over the Pacific Ocean. Smoke from wildfires in the west has been tracked throughout the United States, and even was seen by satellites as it drifted over the Atlantic Ocean off the northeastern seaboard in late September.
The 2012 wildfire season is well on its way to break the United States record for the most acres burned, set in 2006 when more than 8.9 million acres were consumed by fire, according to the National Interagency Fire Center, which has been keeping records since 1960. On September 20, the Center reported that wildfires had already burned 8,482,785 acres this year. With three months still to go, this is the second highest acreage burned, and is well over the annual average acreage burned (calculated from 2003-2012).
Interestingly, the number of fires reported this year, 47,053, is the lowest number recorded between 2003 and 2012, and well under the annual average number of fires, which are 60,723. In 2006, the record year for acres burned, the total number of fires was 82,599. Compared to 2006, the United States has suffered fewer, but larger fires.