Wildfires in the southeastern United States • Earth.com

Last update: November 14th, 2019 at 11:00 am

Numerous fires were scattered across the southeastern United States in early spring 2016. The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) aboard NASA’s Aqua satellite captured this true-color image on April 5.

Red hotspots speckle the several states across the southeast, including Florida, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas, Tennessee, southern Missouri, and eastern Texas. Heavy clusters of larger hotspots can also be seen in Oklahoma and Kansas. Smoke accompanies many of the hotspots and most plumes blow towards the south. The red hotspots are locations where the thermal bands on the MODIS instrument detected high temperatures. When combined with smoke plumes, such hotspots are diagnostic for actively burning fire.

The widespread nature, time of year, and relatively small size of the hotspots suggests that the southeastern fires are most likely agricultural in origin. That means they have been deliberately set to manage cropland or pasture, and are designed to burn small areas. Such fires typically stay under control, although it is always possible for any fire to slip control and turn into a wildfire.

The very large hotspots clustered closely together in Oklahoma and Kansas tell a different story. This pattern suggests wildfire, which tends to consume large areas as efforts are made to bring the fires under control. Indeed, as of April 3 the National Interagency Coordination Center reported that several forest fires had broken out in the central United States. Fires with names such as Anderson Creek, Bear Creek, Burmac, Crawford, Bug Creek, Bender, Darkwing, Rabbit, Dogga Creek, Walker, Powder Mill, Bar-Dew Lake, Ranchland, and Grassy Top burned in Oklahoma and Kansas on that date. The largest, Anderson Creek Fire, had consumed over 367,000 acres, but had been 95% controlled. The rest of the fires ranged from several hundred acres up to 12,000 acres.

NASA

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