Fires in Central Africa •

Last update: November 15th, 2019 at 11:00 am

In Africa south of the equator, fires are ubiquitous during the annual dry season. The exact length and timing of the dry season vary in different locations, but it generally falls between May and October. During that time, people use fire to clear brush and crop stubble, to control the growth of undesirable plants in crop or grazing areas, and to drive grazing animals from one pasture area to another.

This image shows early dry-season burning across a large swath of central Africa south of the equator on May 28, 2007. The image was captured by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Aqua satellite, and shows places the sensor detected active fires marked with red dots. Hundreds of fires dot the tropical savannas (ecosystems dominated by grasses and scattered trees and shrubs) of Angola, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Zambia.

Although these fires are not necessarily immediately hazardous, such large-scale burning can have a strong impact on weather, climate, human health, and natural resources. For example, the fires create large amounts of ozone and other air pollutants, and the too-frequent use of fire combined with other pressures such as overgrazing may degrade the soil and prevent some plant species from regenerating.

Credit: NASA image created by Jesse Allen, using data provided courtesy of the MODIS Rapid Response team.

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