Friday, June 29, 2012

Western wildfires seen from space

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A video recorded on the International Space Station shows the smoke-filled skies of the American West.

A four-minute video from the International Space Station, released today by NASA, captures a beautiful and horrible sight: Ribbons of smoke drifting across Colorado and other Western states, due to a rash of wildfires.
You can also see sunlight glinting off lakes, as well as the snow-covered Rocky Mountains. But the haze covering the plains makes the biggest impression as you watch the landscape pass by, 230 miles (370 kilometers) beneath the station and a docked Russian spacecraft.
More than 30,000 residents in the Colorado Springs area had to evacuate their homes Tuesday night, due to what officials said was the most destructive fire in the state's history. Today, Colorado Springs Mayor Steve Bach passed along a preliminary report that the Waldo Canyon Fire destroyed 346 houses. President Barack Obama is due to visit the city on Friday to meet with firefighters and tour the fire-ravaged zones. (Our slideshow documents the devastation.)

The worst fire season in recent history is taking its toll with large fires burning thousands of acres in Colorado while others consume areas in Montana, Utah, New Mexico and Wyoming.

The space station can capture high-resolution video and stills of the scene from its Cupola observation deck, but that's not the only vantage point at NASA's disposal. Earth-watching satellites such as Terra and Aqua are also monitoring the wildfires, as are weather satellites such as GOES-15. Here's a picture of the western U.S. taken by GOES-15 at 8:45 a.m. ET today and processed by the NASA GOES Project at Goddard Space Flight Center:

The GOES-15 satellite keeps a stationary eye over the western United States. Smoke from the fires raging in several states has created a brownish-colored blanket over the entire region.
"The dawn's early light revealed smoke and haze throughout the Midwest, arising from forest fires throughout the Rockies," NASA said in its image advisory. "While the most publicized fires occur along the populous eastern range in Colorado, the great smoke plumes in this image came from Wyoming."
To get a fix on the Western wildfires, check out these resources:

20:13:29 GMT
Satellite: Aqua  
 Wildfires in Utah and Wyoming
  • NASA: Fire and Smoke: A selection of wildfire imagery, organized by subject. 
    • Wildfires in Utah and Wyoming
  • Utah and Wyoming, like Colorado, are also dealing with some large wildfires. Smoke and heat from those fires were detected by an instrument aboard NASA's Terra satellite.

    The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS)
    instrument onboard Terra has infrared capabilities that can detect heat. In the MODIS images, fires, or hot spots are color coded as red areas in imagery and smoke appears in light brown. Images are generated at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.

    This image shows the heat and smoke occurring from the Church Camp and Wood Hollow fires in Utah, and the Fonterelle fire in western Wyoming. The image was captured on June 27, 2012 at 17:55 UTC (1:55 p.m. EDT).
    The Church Camp Fire is burning 20 miles south of Duchesne, Utah. As of June 28, it has burned 5,200 acres and is five percent contained, according to the Utah State Division of Forestry Fire and State Lands. Evacuations are continuing along Argyle Canyon. The Wood Hollow fire has covered more territory. Wood Hollow has consumed 46,190 acres and is 15 percent contained. The fire has destroyed 56 structures and taken one life. Evacuations are in place for Indian Ridge, Elk Ridge, Big Hollow, and the Oaker Hills communities.

    In Wyoming, the Fontenelle fire is creating a lot of smoke, seen blowing in a northeasterly direction on the satellite image. This fire has consumed 17,000 acres and according to the U.S. Forest Service it located in Lincoln and Sublette County, Wyoming.

    Image: Jeff Schmaltz, NASA Goddard MODIS Rapid Response Team;
  Geomac Image Current Wildfires
  • GeoMAC Wildland Fire Support: Online, zoomable satellite maps of fire locations.
    • The Geospatial Multi-Agency Coordination Group or GeoMAC, is an internet-based mapping application originally designed for fire managers to access online maps of current fire locations and perimeters in the conterminous 48 States and Alaska. Using a standard web browser, fire personnel can view this information to pinpoint the affected areas. With the growing concern of western wildland fires in the summer of 2000, this application also became available to the public.

Waldo Canyon Fire Progression Map June 23 - 28


Approximate Location

38.89 latitude, -104.872 longitude

Incident Overview

Wildland firefighters holding the line

June 29, 4:45pm - Monument residents who have registered with the elpasoteller911 will be receiving a reminder geocast that you are under pre-evacuation status only.

June 29, 9:30am - Evac lifted - Thunderbird and Pinecreek Estates - Communities accessed by Pinecreek Road and Tudor Road.

June 29, 9:30am - Evac lifted - Commerce Drive north from east Woodmen to Pinecreek Drive.

June 29, 9:30am - Air Force Academy opens Pine Valley and Douglas Valley Housing for resident return effictive 5am June 29 (use North and south gates). Child Development center, commissary, BX and Falcon club open for normal business hours.

June 29, 9:30am - Beginning June 30th El Paso County will open a Disaster Recovery Center - 105 N. Spruce open 9am to 7pm

June 28, 6:30pm - Downgrade to Pre-Evacuation: North & West Boundary - Woodmen Rd to W. Rockrimmon Blvd. Where West Rockrimmon Road turns to South Rockrimmon cut in a south westerly direction through Ute Valley Park. Go through Ute Valley Park diagonally until even with Hunters Ridge Road. Cut ninty degrees to a south easterly direction between Hopner Ct and Ledge Rock Trl. Then cut back, leaving Ute Valley Park to the north tip of List Drive to Centennial Drive. Turn right on Centennial drive to N 30th St. South Boundary - West Garden of the Gods Road. East Boundary - I-25.

Following the 8:00 pm meeting there will be a televised press conference to discuss information that was dissiminated to the affected home owners in the Mountian Shadows Sub Division.

Basic Information

Incident TypeWildfire
CauseUnder Investigation
Date of OriginSaturday June 23rd, 2012 approx. 12:00 PM
LocationPike National Forest, El Paso County
Incident CommanderRich Harvey

Current Situation

Total Personnel1,287
Size17,073 acres
Percent Contained25%
Estimated Containment DateMonday July 16th, 2012 approx. 12:00 AM
Fuels InvolvedBrush, hardwood slash, Mountain shrub, oak, grass, Pinon juniper, Ponderosa pine, Douglas fir, spruce, Limber pine, White pine
Fire BehaviorCreeping and smoldering in timber fuels with no torching observed. Flame lengths of up to one foot in surface fuels. Thunderstorms, downslope winds and light precipitation were present over the fire area.
Significant EventsThere has been a maximum effort to contain the spotfires north of Rampart Ridge Reservoir. Lack of a Red Flag conditions and favorable weather conditions has allowed for securing of the subdivision of Cedar Heights and eliminate the potential of fire from destroyed structures involving other structures. Favorable weather and fire behavior has also allowed crews to go direct in all divisions. Development of management action points for evacuations have begun for Woodland Park, Monument and Manitou Springs. Resources were able to begin securing the Stanley Repeater site and reduce the threat of fire damage. Continued recon of the northern fire perimeter for useable contingency lines.


Planned ActionsComplete work around the Stsnley Repeater site. Complete direct line construction in divisions C and D. Secure line in Williams Canyon to reduce threat to Manitou Springs. Contain and secure spotfires north of Rampart Reservoir. Continue to secure line on US Air Force Academy.
Growth PotentialExtreme
Terrain DifficultyExtreme
RemarksAcres by ownership USFS 13,590, private 3,014. Colorado Springs issued the number of destroyed structures at 347.

Current Weather

Wind Conditions10 mph SW
Temperature86 degrees

Current conditions
ºF | ºC
ºF | ºC

Partly Cloudy Partly Cloudy High Low Precip. Humidity
  Day/Night Day/Night
-na- 63ºF -na-/20% -na-/31%

Night: A stray thunderstorm is possible through the evening. Some clouds this evening will give way to mainly clear skies overnight. Low 63F. Winds NNW at 10 to 20 mph.

 Saturday, June 30

Mostly Sunny Mostly Sunny High Low Precip. Humidity
  Day/Night Day/Night
92ºF 62ºF 20%/20% 18%/34%

Day: Generally sunny despite a few afternoon clouds. A stray afternoon thunderstorm is possible. High 92F. Winds ESE at 5 to 10 mph.
Night: A stray thunderstorm is possible through the evening. Partly cloudy skies. Low 62F. Winds NNE at 5 to 10 mph.

 Sunday, July 01

Mostly Sunny Mostly Sunny High Low Precip. Humidity
  Day/Night Day/Night
94ºF 63ºF 10%/0% 19%/33%

Plenty of sun. Highs in the mid 90s and lows in the low 60s.

 Monday, July 02

Mostly Sunny Mostly Sunny High Low Precip. Humidity
  Day/Night Day/Night
94ºF 63ºF 10%/10% 27%/28%

A few clouds. Highs in the mid 90s and lows in the low 60s.

 Tuesday, July 03

Partly Cloudy Partly Cloudy High Low Precip. Humidity
  Day/Night Day/Night
92ºF 64ºF 10%/20% 28%/34%

Times of sun and clouds. Highs in the low 90s and lows in the mid 60s.
Colorado Springs, CO
Current Weather
As reported 4:54 p.m.
UV index: 2 Low
Winds: ENE 12 mph
Humidity: 13%
Pressure: 30.13 in STEADY
Dew point: 33ºF
Visibility: 10.00 miles
Sunrise: 5:37 AM
Sunset: 8:28 PM
Mostly Cloudy
Mostly Cloudy
Feels like 85ºF

Alan Boyle is's science editor. Connect with the Cosmic Log community by "liking" the log's Facebook page, following @b0yle on Twitter and adding the Cosmic Log page to your Google+ presence. You can also check out "The Case for Pluto," my book about the controversial dwarf planet and the search for new worlds.

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