City-sized Fire in Australia

City-sized Fire in Australia
City-sized Fire in Australia

Melbourne, Australia, has a new rival in night-time views from space. The massive Snowy River Complex fire lights up the landscape over an area that nearly matches or possibly exceeds Melbourne in size. The fire in and around the remote Snowy River National Park is one of three high-priority bushfires that flared up in the state on February 9, 2014.

A summer heat wave brought high temperatures and strong winds that combined with a dry environment to create dangerous fire conditions in Victoria. By February 12, more than 180,000 hectares (695 square miles) had burned, about 100,000 (390 square miles) of which burned in the Snowy River Complex. The other two fires—Morwell-Hernes Oak fire and the Mickleham-Kilmore—were much smaller but burned closer to populated areas.

These images, acquired by the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) on the Suomi NPP satellite, provide a view of the fires by night and day on February 10, 2014. The Snowy River Complex is burning in mountain forests and is producing dense, opaque smoke that reflects enough moonlight to be visible in the night image. The daytime view shows a smoke plume stretching across the Tasman Sea to New Zealand.

The Snowy River Complex includes fires that ignited on February 9, as well as fires that were started by lightning in January.

The Morwell-Hernes Oak fire is burning in an industrial region east of Melbourne, where it spread into an open coal mine. Though it had threatened four communities and much of Victoria’s electricity supply, the fire was mostly under control by February 12.

Thought it is the hardest to see in these images, the Mickleham-Kilmore fire was the most dangerous. The nighttime image shows why: the glow of the fire blends with lights in towns immediately north of Melbourne. The fire threatened 13,000 people, forced widespread evacuations, and destroyed at least 12 homes. (An additional 14 homes burned down in other fires in Victoria.) By February 13, the Mickleham-Kilmore fire had burned 23,629 hectares (91 square miles) along the northern fringes of Melbourne.

Weather conditions are expected to improve for firefighters in Victoria in the coming days. Monsoon rain is expected to fall, though totals are not likely to be high enough to extinguish the Snowy River Complex.

NASA Earth Observatory image by Jesse Allen and Robert Simmon, using VIIRS data from the Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership. Suomi NPP is the result of a partnership between NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the Department of Defense. Caption by Holli Riebeek.

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