In northeastern Nevada, a 20,000-acre fire was racing through sagebrush, grass, and juniper on August 16, 2006. According to the National Interagency Fire Center, a power line, residences, and grazing allotments were being threatened by the Charleston Fire. The fire was exhibiting extreme behavior according to the August 17 report. This pair of images of the Charleston Fire, burning in the area between Nevada’s Matterhorn and the Marys River, was captured on August 16 by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Aqua satellite.
The photo-like, “natural-color” image on top shows places where MODIS detected active fire outlined in red. Thick smoke pours northeastward into Idaho. The bottom image has been enhanced using MODIS’ observations of shortwave and near-infrared light to penetrate the smoke, to emphasize extremely hot areas (bright pink), and to distinguish burned vegetation (brick red) from unburned vegetation (bright green). In this kind of false-color image, the bright pink glow inside some of the active-fire perimeters often indicates open flame.
According to the Western Great Basin Coordination Center of the National Interagency Fire Center, the region was primed for big fires in summer 2006 because of poor snowfall over the winter. A prolific grass crop from 2005, which normally would have been flattened and compacted by winter’s heavy snow, remained standing across grasslands in spring 2006. In addition, a wet spring produced luxuriant new growth, which dried as the summer progressed. The standing grass from 2005 combined with the abundant early-2006 growth created a dangerously high load of fuel for summer fires. In July, the agency issued a fuel and fire behavior advisory, warning that the accumulation of such large amounts of “fine fuels” like grass had increased the risk of intense, severe, and rapidly spreading fires across much of the Western Great Basin, including northern Nevada.
The high-resolution image provided above has a spatial resolution of 250 meters per pixel. The MODIS Rapid Response System provides twice-daily images of the entire western United States at additional resolutions.
NASA image courtesy the MODIS Rapid Response Team, Goddard Space Flight Center