As the earliest chill of approaching winter cools far eastern Russia, the traditionally summer-centered fire season continues to rage across the landscape in mid-August 2016. The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) aboard NASA’s Terra satellite captured a true-color image of the smoky scene on August 15.
Much of Russia, particularly the Far East and far northern regions, experienced dry, warm conditions during the winter of 2015-2016, leaving the vegetation of the boreal forests and tundra tinder-dry. Early spring thunderstorms – especially those with scant rain – sparked cloud-to-ground lightning which touched off the tinder, igniting numerous fires in extremely remote regions.
Russian fire-fighting typically focuses on suppressing fires near population centers, sometimes leaving more remote fires to burn for long periods. In more normal years the natural-burn tactic can be suppressed by spring rains, but when rain is scarce and vast acres of vegetation are bone-dry, unsuppressed fires can prove extremely destructive.
This image centers on Kamchatka Krai, one of the eastern-most regions of Russia. Multiple red hotspots, which represent heat signatures detected by the thermal bands on the MODIS instrument, combined with smoke represent actively burning fires across the region. Smoke travels many hundreds of miles across Kamchatka Krai, over the Sea of Okhotsk and curls across the Bering Sea before becoming entrained in the clouds which extend over the North Pacific Ocean. The thickest smoke comes from a cluster of fires near the center of the image. These wildfires are burning northeast of Pakhachi, Kamchatka, Russia.
Near the north-central edge of the image, a comma-shaped dark area can be easily seen just north of the arcing veil of smoke. At first glance this may appear to be a moderate-sized lake with very dark blue waters. However, when viewed at higher resolution, the dark area clearly represents an extremely large burn scar, where a long-lasting fire has charred the land over many thousands of acres.