Record-breaking US forest fire seen from space

NASA satellites are tracking the record-breaking wildfire that has been raging in the state of New Mexico since mid-April.

Smoke from a forest fire in New Mexico.  Photo: NOAA

Smoke from a forest fire in New Mexico. Picture: NOAA

The Medium Resolution Imaging Radiation Spectrometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Aqua satellite photographed wildfires on May 3rd. This natural color image shows large plumes of smoke billowing over Los Alamos and the neighboring city of Las Vegas, New Mexico. According to NASA’s Earth Observatory, the fire was started by high winds, low humidity and extremely dry clumps of grass, shrubs and wood. All provide fuel for the fire. The fire destroyed hundreds of buildings and forced thousands of families to evacuate.

On May 3, there were seven major fires across the state. Authorities declared a state of emergency and ordered evacuations in several counties threatened by dry and windy conditions. More than 1,000 firefighters are currently attending to the Calf Canyon-Hermits Peak fire that broke out on April 22nd and 23rd. This fire started in the Santa Fe National Forest and got out of control due to high winds. It has burned more than 587 square kilometers of woodland east of Santa Fe as of May 3, breaking the record for the largest wildfire in the state of New Mexico.

The fire on Cerro Pelado southwest of Los Alamos started April 22 and destroyed more than 100 square kilometers on May 3. Strong winds continued to drive the fire to the northeast and southeast. As a result, communities were ordered to evacuate. The Valles Caldera National Reserve and the Bandelier Monument also had to be closed until further notice.

The Cooks Peak Fire broke out on April 17, 50 miles north of Las Vegas, New Mexico, and devastated more than 80 square miles of land. The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) shared satellite imagery of the four fires on Twitter on May 4.

The state of New Mexico is experiencing a severe drought due to drought conditions in the region, according to April 26 data from the US Drought Monitor. So far this year, 211 fires have raged across the state, burning a total of 930 square kilometers of land, nearly double the number last year.

Many satellites and devices are used to detect and monitor ongoing fires. The satellites also help track smoke distribution and map the intensity of fires. This data is important for bushfire managers and firefighters. NASA’s satellite will continue to monitor the New Mexico fires from space.

A khang (Corresponding Place)