Wildland fire research and applications spans across multiple NASA programs, and fire itself, is an integral natural process that acts to maintain ecosystem biodiversity and structure.  Wildland fire, which includes any non-structure fire that occurs in vegetation or natural fuels, is an essential process that connects terrestrial systems to the atmosphere and climate.  However, the effects of fire can be disastrous, both immediately (e.g., poor air quality, loss of life and property) and through post-fire impacts (floods, debris flows/landslides, poor water quality).

NASA Earth observations and models are used to support pre-, active- and post-fire research, as well as the applicable use of these data and products in support of management decisions and strategies, policy planning and in setting rules and regulations.  A few examples are provided below that highlight NASA capabilities and our ability to engage partners and provide information to stakeholder communities.  

Active Fire Assessment

Working with NASA research and applied communities, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service (USFS), an enhanced active fire detection (Thermal Anomaly) algorithm and product was developed and is in use operationally.  These new data are derived using data from the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) instrument on the Suomi NPP satellite.  These enhanced data products provide higher spatial resolution and are publically available worldwide:

The USFS and NASA work closely to ensure data are quickly available for regional planning, fire identification and model initialization.  Summarized satellite and fire data that are applicable to fire management communities are available through the USFS website

Disaster Mitigation

Through the NASA Applied Science Program Wildland Fires, Principle Investigators and their teams have rapidly responded to numerous national and international fire events to provide information critical to disaster mitigation.  For example, the Fort Mc Murray fire burned in Alberta, Canada from 1 May to 5 July 2016 and consumed 607,028 hectares (6,070 km^2).  The fire forced more than 80,000 people from their homes, and it is the costliest disaster in Canadian history (estimated $3.58 billion).

Tracing smoke: Implications for air quality, health and climate

NASA data are capable of viewing a slice of smoke through the atmosphere and tracking these smoke-laden emissions around the Earth.  With this type of lidar data, we are able to accurately estimate the height of smoke; this is significant because smoke travels faster at higher altitudes.  With this information, we are able to provide accurate air quality warnings.

View NASA Earth Data Products for Fires

Tools & Resources

  • NASA Wildfires Program
  • Global Wildfire Information System (GWIS): The Global Wildfire Information System is a joint initiative of the GEO and the Copernicus Work Programs. The Global Wildfire Information System (GWIS) aims at bringing together existing information sources at regional and national level in order to provide a comprehensive view and evaluation of fire regimes and fire effects at global level.
  • Global Fire Weather Database (GFWED): The Global Fire WEather Database (GFWED) integrates different weather factors influencing the likelihood of a vegetation fire starting and spreading. It is based on the Fire Weather Index (FWI) System, the most widely used fire weather system in the world. 
  • FirecastA tool by Conservation International, Firecast uses satellite observations to track ecosystem disturbances such as fires, fire risk conditions, deforestation, and protected area encroachment, and delivers this time-sensitive information to decision makers through email alerts, maps, and reports.


Latest Updates

January 24, 2017
On January 20, 2017, the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Terra satellite acquired an image of brown smoke billowing from a cluster of fires near the coastal city of Pichilemu.
On January 20, 2017, the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Terra satellite acquired an image of brown smoke billowing from a cluster of fires near the coastal city of Pichilemu. Smoke from dozens of forest fires billowed over central Chile in January 2017. A heat wave, coupled with strong winds, spread the flames on January 20, prompting President Michelle Bachelet to declare a state of emergency in some areas. On January 20, 2017, the Moderate Resolution Imaging...
January 5, 2017
The Operational Land Imager (OLI) on the Landsat 8 satellite captured this natural-color image of a smoke plume south of Río Colorado on December 29, 2016.
The Operational Land Imager (OLI) on the Landsat 8 satellite captured this natural-color image of a smoke plume south of Río Colorado on December 29, 2016. Dense smoke rose above a rash of wildfires in the Pampas region of Argentina in late December 2016 and early January 2017. Over the past month, roughly two dozen fires have spread across the rural landscape. The blazes were likely started by thunderstorms that followed a stretch of hotter-than-average weather, according to ...
September 21, 2016
Soberanes wildfires
False-color image from the Landsat 8 OLI that and combines shortwave infrared, near-infrared, and green light to provide a clear view of the charred landscape (dark red).  Natural color image from Landsat 8. In late July 2016, an illegal campfire gave rise to the Soberanes fire that grew near...
August 24, 2016
Four Fires Plague Southern California
Dry and hot weather conditions in the southern part of California as well as a spate of careless humans and lightning strikes have created an environment rife for fire outbreaks.  Four very large fires are currently causing havoc in the area and NASA's Suomi NPP satellite's VIIRS (Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite) instrument captured this image of all four fires on August 23, 2016. Actively burning areas, detected by MODIS’s thermal bands, are outlined in red.  The Soberanes Fire...
July 28, 2016
Sand and Soberanes Fires Still Blazing in California
The Sand and Soberanes fires in California continue to blaze, however, the Sand Fire (lower fire) is 65% contained whereas the Soberanes Fire (upper fire) remains only 10% contained.   The Soberanes fire activity increased due to lower humidity and higher temperatures, which continues to present as a challenge in controlling the fire. A private hired equipment bull dozer operator was fatally injured last evening (July 26, 2016). A State of Emergency has been declared by the Governor...
July 26, 2016
Smoke from California's Sand and Soberanes Fires Observed by NASA's MISR
The Sand Fire in the Santa Clarita Valley area of Southern California erupted on Friday, July 22, 2016, and rapidly grew to more than 37,000 acres (58 square miles, or 150 square kilometers) over the weekend. As of Tuesday, July 26, hundreds of residents still remain under evacuation orders, and the fire claimed the life of a local resident. The fire is currently 25 percent contained. The Multi-angle Imaging SpectroRadiometer (MISR) instrument aboard NASA's Terra satellite passed over the...
July 25, 2016
Sand and Soberanes Fires Largest in California At Present
The Sand and Soberanes Fires have the unhappy distinction of the being the largest fires in California at present.  The Sand Fire, whose cause is currently under investigation, began on July 22, 2016 and quickly grew to its current size of 33,117 and is 10% contained.  The United States Forest Service, Los Angeles County Fire and Los Angeles County Sheriff's Office are in "Unified Command." Evacuations are in place. Over 2964 firefighters are engaged fighting this fire. The resources that are...