Fires in Western Australia

Fires in Western Australia

When this image was captured on May 2, 2012, dozens of fires—most likely management fires started by government authorities—were burning in the Kimberley region of Western Australia.

Fire season in this part of Australia usually begins in May and ends in November. Once started, wildfires can be difficult to control. Much of the vegetation is fire prone, and the terrain is hard to access with the big machines (such as bulldozers) used to extinguish fires. But since May is only the beginning of the dry season, vegetation is still relatively moist, and fires are relatively easy to contain. Authorities take advantage of this by starting management fires that are designed to remove vegetation that could fuel large wildfires later in the season.

On May 1, 2012, the Australian Bureau of Meteorology released rainfall figures for the just-completed wet season in Western Australia. In Kimberley, rainfall was above average; Dampier Downs in Kimberley experienced its wettest season on record, with more than 864 millimeters (34 inches) of rain. Extra rain during the wet season typically leads to more vigorous plant growth, which provides more fuel for the fire season later in the year.

Because officials are concerned that wildfires are taking a toll on the local tourism industry, they have intensified their efforts to prevent damaging wildfires. As part of this effort, they have begun setting patches of oval-shaped fires rather than burning linear fire breaks as they did in the past, according to an article published by Australian Geographic. The new approach has reduced the overall fire size, and posed fewer threats to animals and plants in the Kimberley region.

The image above was acquired at 12:20 p.m. local time (5:20 Universal Time) on May 2 by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) instrument on NASA’s Aqua satellite. Fires continued to burn nearby over the following days, although clouds moved in around May 6, 2012. The LANCE MODIS Rapid Response system provides twice daily images of northwestern Australia.

NASA image by Jeff Schmaltz, LANCE MODIS Rapid Response. Caption by Adam Voiland and Michon Scott.

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