Bushfire season in New South Wales, Australia, typically runs from October through March. Just one month into the 2019 season, news reports say the amount of burned area has already surpassed that of the past two years combined.
The recent spate of fires is visible in this image, acquired at 2:30 p.m. local time on November 8, 2019, by the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) on the NOAA-NASA Suomi NPP satellite. The fires burned near the coast from north of Sydney to the border with Queensland, with thick smoke blowing southeast over the Tasman Sea.
Three hours after this image was acquired, the New South Wales Rural Fire Service reported 96 fires burning across the state with 57 that remained uncontained. Seventeen were emergency-level fires—the highest alert level for a bushfire. According to news reports, that’s the highest number of emergency-level fires the state has seen burning at one time.
Amid the burning, citizens of coastal cities watched their skies turn orange-red and air quality was degraded. In Port Macquarie, the air quality index (a scale that indicates pollution levels) was well into the hazardous category. That’s the level at which everyone is at risk for the pollution to affect their health.
Burning bans have been put in place in some areas amid forecasts for continued severe fire weather—warm temperatures paired with strong winds. The region also has been drier than usual; the lack of rainfall in New South Wales led to one of five driest January-October periods on record.
NASA Earth Observatory image by Lauren Dauphin, using VIIRS data from NASA EOSDIS/LANCE and GIBS/Worldview, and the Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership. Story by Kathryn Hansen.