Towns turn orange as impact of US fires seen from space

·5-min read

In eerie scenes reminiscent of Australia recent bushfire horror, smoke haze has blanketed most of the east of the US as large wildfires continue to rage in the country's west.

Strong winds blew smoke east from California, Oregon, Montana and other states all the way to other side of the continent, with haze lingering over New York City, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

NASA’s Micro-Pulse Lidar Network (MPLNET) and Aerosol Robotic Network (AERONET) released data which shows the intensity of the soot still hanging around the east in recent days.

"Haze darkened skies and reddened sunsets, unleashed a rash of code red and orange air quality warnings, and even left the scent of smoke in the air in some areas," NASA's Earth Observatory said.

The map shows the  black carbon particulates, or soot, over the US on July 21. Source: NASA Earth Observatory
The map shows the black carbon particulates, or soot, over the US on July 21. Source: NASA Earth Observatory

While the fires remain in the west of the US, NASA noted most of the smoke haze in the northeast of the US could be attributed to several fires burning across the border in Canada.

"Fires burning farther to the west in British Columbia and the Pacific Northwest of the United States may have contributed a small amount of smoke as well," NASA said.

The smoke from fires in the west has travelled across the continent to the east. Source: NASA Earth Observatory
The smoke from fires in the west has travelled across the continent to the east. Source: NASA Earth Observatory

However, the smoke in New York City is pretty significant, as NASA's atmospheric scientist Ryan Stauffer pointed out the magnitude of the pollution in New York City hasn't been on this scale in more than a decade.

“One of the things about this event that makes it so remarkable is that the smoke is affecting such a large swath of the US,” said Jesse Berman, an assistant professor at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health and an expert on air quality. 

“You’re not just seeing localised and perhaps upstate New York being affected, but rather you’re seeing numerous states all along the East Coast that are being impacted.”

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Fires rip through homes in California

Flames racing through rugged terrain in Northern California destroyed multiple homes Saturday (local time) as the state’s largest wildfire intensified and numerous other blazes battered the US West.

The Dixie fire, which started July 14, had already levelled over a dozen houses and other structures when it tore through the tiny community of Indian Falls after dark.

An updated damage estimate was not immediately available, though fire officials said the blaze has charred more than 181,000 acres in Plumas and Butte counties and was 20 per cent contained.

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The fire was burning in a remote area with limited access, hampering firefighters’ efforts as it charged eastward, fire officials said. 

It has prompted evacuation orders in several small communities and along the west shore of Lake Almanor, a popular area getaway.

Images show the haze has resulted in reddened skies as NASA pointed out, which is reminiscent of images seen during Australia's own devastating bushfire season in the summer of 2019-2020.

In California, Governor Gavin Newsom has declared a state of emergency for four northern counties because of wildfires that he said were causing “conditions of extreme peril to the safety of persons and property.” 

The proclamation opened the way for more state support.

A man rides his bike passed a gas station as smoke fills the sky during the Dixie fire in Greenville, California on July 23, 2021.
The Dixie fire, in Greenville, California, started only a few miles from the deadly Camp fire, continues to burn towards rural communities. Source: AFP via Getty Images
Firefighters try to get control of the scene as the Dixie fire burns dozens of homes in the Indian Falls neighborhood of unincorporated Plumas County, California on July 24, 2021. - The Dixie fire, which started only a few miles from the origin of the deadly Camp fire, has churned through more than 185,000 acres and continues to burn towards rural communities. (Photo by JOSH EDELSON / AFP) (Photo by JOSH EDELSON/AFP via Getty Images)
A state of emergency has been declared in Californiaa. Source: AFP via Getty Images

Thousands work to contain 'sprawling' blaze

Meanwhile, the nation’s largest wildfire, southern Oregon’s Bootleg fire, was nearly halfway surrounded by Saturday (local time) as more than 2,200 crew members worked to corral it in the heat and wind, fire officials said. 

The growth of the sprawling blaze had slowed, but thousands of homes remained threatened on its eastern side.

“This fire is resistant to stopping at dozer lines,” Jim Hanson, fire behaviour analyst, said in a news release from the Oregon Department of Forestry. 

“With the critically dry weather and fuels we are experiencing, firefighters are having to constantly reevaluate their control lines and look for contingency options.”

Fires continue to burn in the mountains west of Paisley, Oregon
The Bootleg blaze in southern Oregon has swelled. Source: Getty

Five firefighters were injured earlier in the week when swirling winds blew flames back on them as they worked on the Devil’s Creek fire burning in rough, steep terrain near the rural town of Jordan, in the northeast part of the state.

They remained hospitalised on the weekend. Bureau of Land Management spokesperson Mark Jacobsen declined to release the extent of their injuries.

Three of the firefighters are US Fish and Wildlife Service crew members from North Dakota, and the other two are US Forest Service firefighters from New Mexico.

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