If the last satellite photos didn’t impress you with the fiery immensity of the Arizona wildfires, perhaps these will. Look over at the left side of the above image, taken June 9 by the GOES-East satellite (hi-res). A billowing white cloud, the exhaust jet from ongoing conflagrations, stretches out to touch Texas and even the butt of Kansas. Compare the size of that smoke plume with the major thunderstorms over Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas (where a tornado was reported at the time this image was captured). That is one major barbeque right there.
One outbreak alone, the Wallow Fire, has consumed nearly 450,000 acres and spans four counties in Arizona and one in New Mexico. There are more than 4,000 sweat-drenched people working around the clock to slow this probably human-caused fire, yet it’s only 10 percent contained. The air across the Southwest is a potentially hazardous milkshake of smoke and charred stuff that used to be plants.
You can see where the plants once grew in the below images from the Landsat-7 satellite, operated by NASA and the U.S. Geological Survey.
To the left is a shot of Arizona from May 5. Green patches are healthy growth and light pink are dirt or rock. Now check out the shot from June 7: Those angry red scars show land that’s been burned. Fires that were spreading at the time the photo was taken are detailed in hot pink (hi-res).
As big as the Wallow Fire is, it’s not expected to break the state wildfire record. In 2002, two separate fires joined forces to become the Rodeo-Chediski fire, which wound up taking out about 469,000 acres of vegetation. That blaze was so intense it disintegrated not only trees but their root balls, too, leaving strange sinkholes in the ground.
The cause of that historic fire? Human stupidity. One blaze was set by a motorist trying to get attention from a helicopter. The other was set by a firefighter hoping to make some quick cash. It didn't work.