The 2020 Colorado fire season has been devastating and record-breaking. The three largest fires in Colorado history have all occurred this year. The third-largest fire, the Pine Gulch Fire, began on July 31 and torched 139,007 acres before it was fully contained on September 24. By October 26, that fire had been surpassed by two others: the Cameron Peak Fire, which has burned 208,663 acres and was 64 percent contained and the East Troublesome Fire, which has burned 192,560 acres and was 15 percent contained. The Cameron Peak Fire began in August and is the largest fire in state history, the East Troublesome Fire, which is burning close to the Cameron Peak Fire, ignited on October 14 and has explosively grown to capture the number-two title. At least 11 fires continued to be active in the state on October 26.
Not only has the acreage burnt broken records, the amount of smoke emitted from this fire has been spectacular. When the East Troublesome Fire burst into explosive growth on October 21—growing 140,000 acres in 24 hours—it created a huge pyrocumulonimbus cloud that rose to about 40,000 feet. To be more descriptive, a NASA article entitled “Fire-breathing Storm Systems” describes it this way: “Pyrocumulonimbus is the fire-breathing dragon of clouds. A cumulonimbus without the “pyre” part is imposing enough—a massive, anvil-shaped tower of power reaching five miles (8 km) high, hurling thunderbolts, wind and rain. Add smoke and fire to the mix and you have pyrocumulonimbus, an explosive storm cloud actually created by the smoke and heat from the fire”. Called “pyroCb” storms, they can funnel their smoke like a chimney into Earth’s stratosphere, allowing the smoke to be spread for thousands of miles.
Which appears to be exactly what happened to the East Troublesome Fire’s pyroCB event. According to Ozone Mapping and Profiling Suite (OMPS) aerosol index, aerosol (smoke) can be seen flowing from the October 21 pyroCb in Colorado over the Atlantic Ocean to reach Europe and Africa on October 25.
On October 25, the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on board NASA’s Aqua satellite captured a true-color image of the smoke from the East Troublesome Fire as it passed over the Mediterranean Sea. The smoke is the thickest over the tip of Italy, in the east, but also covers the islands of Sardinia and Corsica. Thin smoke can also be seen over Algeria and Tunisia.