The dry season in southwestern Botswana typically runs from May to September. By September, the parched veld grasslands and savannas of Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park have generally seen so little rain that they are primed to burn. On August 25, 2021, lightning from a passing thunderstorm likely ignited a blaze that then raced through the area during the next two weeks, charring the park as the flames pushed west toward Namibia.
The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Aqua satellite acquired natural-color imagery of the fire. The first image above shows smoke over the charred landscape on August 30, 2021, a few days after the blaze started to spread. Nine days later (second image), the burned area had expanded significantly. Note that a second fire to the northeast—likely ignited by the same storm—was also spreading rapidly.
Common vegetation in the park includes grey camel thorn, dune bushman grass, gha grass, giant three-awn, shepherd’s tree, and false-umbrella thorn. The park also supports populations of lions, leopards, cheetahs, giraffes, honey badgers, pangolins, hyenas, and wildebeest. While there are no reports of animals being injured or killed by the fire, the Polentswa Lodge was destroyed.
This type of landscape is usually resilient to fire. The vegetation will likely grow back quickly when rainfall returns in the coming months. Research indicates that many of the world’s largest and fastest spreading fires occur in sparsely populated grasslands in Australia, Africa, and Central Asia that are similar to this area.
NASA Earth Observatory images by Lauren Dauphin, using MODIS data from NASA EOSDIS LANCE and GIBS/Worldview.