Western U.S. Fires 2020

Start Date

September 1, 2020

Overview

As record-setting fires continue to ravage the western United States, with large fire complexes currently burning in California, Oregon, Washington State, and Colorado, coordinators and scientists from the NASA Earth Applied Sciences Disasters Program are hard at work developing maps, imagery and analysis to aid local agencies and response teams in understanding the impacts from the fires and the potential risks to people, infrastructure, and the environment.

NASA's Aqua satellite captured this true-color image of the United States on Sep. 15, 2020, showing the fires in the West, the smoke from those fires drifting over the country, several hurricanes converging from different angles, and Hurricane Sally makin

NASA's Aqua satellite captured this true-color image of the United States on Sep. 15, 2020, showing the fires in the West, the smoke from those fires drifting over the country, several hurricanes converging from different angles, and Hurricane Sally making landfall. Credit: NASA 

In late August the Disasters Program activated coordination efforts in response to the fires in California, and since then has been working closely with local stakeholders including the California National Guard, the California Geological Survey, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the California State Geographic Information Officer, the California Office of Emergency Services (CalOES), and the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CalFire). As fires began to burn in Oregon, Washington State, and Colorado the Program started working with stakeholders in those regions, including the Washington State Emergency Management Division, the Olympic Region Clean Air Agency, the Washington State Department of Natural Resources, the Washington Department of Ecology, and the Colorado Department of Public Safety. The Disasters Program is also reaching out to emergency management agencies in Oregon, and has recently began discussions with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE). Support is being provided directly to these users through emails and virtual meetings, and through data products digitally distributed on the NASA Disasters Mapping Portal.

Learn more about NASA Disasters Program products and coordination efforts for the western U.S. fires.

Latest Updates

October 16, 2020
This natural-color image from the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) instrument aboard NASA’s Aqua satellite shows a pyrocumulonimbus cloud forming from the the Creek Fire on September 5th, 2020. Credit: NASA Worldview.
The Creek Fire in Sierra National Forest has become one of the largest fires in California history, and has destroyed 286,519 acres in Fresno and Madera Counties as of September 24 according to media reports. Researchers working with the NASA Earth Applied Sciences Disasters Program to study the air quality impacts of the fires used multiple Earth observing instruments to track the transport of smoke into the atmosphere from the Creek Fire. These observations show the smoke plume from these fires reaching all the way into the stratosphere – a relatively rare phenomena that was last seen in...
September 24, 2020
The map on the left shows the location and amount of fires detected by MODIS in California in July and August 2020, while the map on the right shows the location and severity of drier-than-average soil moisture conditions. These data show that more fires
Researchers from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center used data from the NASA Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) satellite to track the correlation between soil moisture conditions and wildfire susceptibility in the 2020 California wildfire season. The top chart shows the number of fires detected in Northern California from September 2019 through August 2020, while bottom chart shows how the soil moisture deviates from average conditions over the same time period (also known as soil...
September 21, 2020
Map showing likely damaged areas in Angeles National Forest on September 7th, 8th, 13th, and 14th
As fires continue to rage in California and across the western U.S., NASA’s Earth Applied Sciences Disasters Program is aiding local agencies by using satellite and airborne instruments to help track the burned areas and map damage to infrastructure and the environment.  Map showing likely damaged areas in Angeles National Forest on September 7th, 8th, 13th, and 14th. Credits: Sentinel-1 data were accessed through the Copernicus Open Access Hub and the NASA mirror...
September 18, 2020
The August Complex fire formed under very hot and dry conditions in northern California on August 17th, 2020. Reportedly, 37 individual fires initiated by lightning strikes merged to create this conflagration, which claimed the life of one firefighter on August 31st, 2020 according to the U.S. Forest Service. Researchers from the MISR Active Aerosol Plume-Height (AAP) Project, based out of NASA Goddard Space Flight Center and the University of Maryland, along with colleagues from JPL and the NASA Langley Research Center used data from multiple Earth observing satellites to map the properties...
September 16, 2020
NASA's C-20A research aircraft takes off with the UAVSAR instrument attached below during an earlier flight from Edwards Air Force Base near Palmdale, California. Credits: NASA
Video of NASA Armstrong & JPL Take Flight to Study California's Wildfire Burn Areas While the agency's satellites image the wildfires from space, scientists are flying over burn areas, using smoke-penetrating technology to better understand the damage. A NASA aircraft equipped with a powerful radar took to the skies this month, beginning a science campaign to learn more about several wildfires that have scorched vast areas of California. The flights are being used to identify structures damaged in the fires while also mapping burn areas that may be at...
September 16, 2020
Damage Proxy Map of the LNU Lightning Complex fires showing likely damaged areas in red and yellow.
As record-setting fires continue to ravage the western United States, with large fire complexes currently burning in California, Oregon, Washington State, and Colorado, coordinators and scientists from the NASA Earth Applied Sciences Disasters Program are hard at work developing maps, imagery and analysis to aid local agencies and response teams in understanding the impacts from the fires and the potential risks to people, infrastructure, and the environment. In late August the...
September 12, 2020
OMPS shows smoke plumes from the California fires
Climate and fire scientists have long anticipated that fires in the U.S. West would grow larger, more intense, and more dangerous. But even the most experienced among them have been at a loss for words in describing the scope and intensity of the fires burning in West Coast states in September 2020. Lightning initially triggered many of the fires, but it was ...
September 4, 2020
At least seven major wildfires were burning across California as early as 10:30 a.m. PDT on August 20th, 2020.
Researchers from the MISR Active Aerosol Plume-Height (AAP) Project, based out of NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland and the University of Maryland, used data from NASA's Terra satellite to map the properties and near-source dispersion of smoke plumes from California’s Milepost 21 wildfire that burned during August 2020.  Credit: MISR Active Aerosol Plume-Height (AAP) Project / K.J. Noyes, R. Kahn, J. Limbacher (NASA Goddard Space Flight Center) At least seven major wildfires...
September 2, 2020
Captured by the ASTER instrument aboard NASA's Terra satellite, this false-color map shows the burn area of the River and Carmel fires in Monterey County, California. Vegetation (including crops) is shown in red; the burn area (dark blue/gray) is in the c
Earth-observing instruments on satellites and aircraft are mapping the current fires, providing data products to agencies on the ground that are responding to the emergency. As California experiences one of the worst wildfire seasons on record, NASA is leveraging its resources to help. Scientists supporting the agency's Applied Sciences Disaster Program in the Earth Sciences Division are generating maps and other data products that track active fires and their smoke plumes while also identifying areas that may be...