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Fires, whether naturally occurring or manmade, can substantially impact society. They can consume vast tracts of land, release tons of aerosols and gases into the atmosphere, as well as destroy homes, wildlife habitats, and valuable resources.  

Recording and monitoring fires from ground-based observations is a labor intensive and expensive process that results in an incomplete record. Satellites, however, allow for detecting and monitoring a range of fires, providing information about the location, duration, size, temperature, and power output of those fires that would otherwise be unavailable. 

NOAA uses geostationary and polar-orbiting satellites to do this. Geostationary satellites, such as NOAA’s GOES-R series, orbit above a fixed area as the Earth rotates, allowing us to watch those areas constantly, in near real-time. Polar-orbiting satellites, such as NOAA-20 and Suomi NPP, orbit closer to the Earth and provide more detailed views of an area at a higher resolution twice a day. The information they collect allows us to not only track the spread of fires, but provides input data for air quality modeling, and helps separate the impact of fires from other sources of pollution. 

Not only does satellite imagery allow us to see where smoke plumes from fires are, but it also allows us to see how a fire is growing and moving as well as the temperature that it is burning. Satellite imagery also can show us burn scars, areas that have been burned by fire. This information is vital to make risk assessments and for decision makers. 




GOES-East GeoColor imagery of the Cameron Peak Fire near Ft. Collins, CO.
On October 14, 2020, the GOES-East satellite viewed the Cameron Peak Fire near Ft. Collins, CO, which has been burning for two months.
Colorado's largest fire
Image of California fires
During the early morning hours of August 13, 2020, NOAA’s GOES-West satellite viewed the rapid growth of the Lake Hughes Fire in Angeles National Forest. The flames have, as of 9 a.m. PDT on August 14, engulfed over 17 square miles and are at 12% containment.
Explosive growth
GOES West imagery shows hot spots and smoke from the Flag Fire burning in Arizona.
On April 25, 2021, the GOES West satellite focused in on the Flag Fire in western Arizona using a combination of the high-resolution visible channel on the satellite’s Advanced Baseline Imager, and Fire Temperature RGB.
GOES West captures flag fire
GOES West GeoColor imagery of Sonoma County, California and the Kincade Fire, Oct. 2019.
Neighborhoods across parts of Sonoma County, California, are under evacuation orders, and more are expected as the Kincade Fire continues to spread toward Cloverdale.
Read about the fire

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