Editor’s Note: This is part three of a three-part series. Make sure you read part one and part two of this series first! 

This past summer and fall, wildfires in the Western U.S. seemed to set new records daily. News reports featured endless streams of scary images, incomprehensible statistics, and mysterious maps. But all of this told only part of the story.

NASA satellites with special infrared sensors capture images of fires every day. By animating those images, we can get a different look at how fast and how far wildfires grew in 2020. We’ll look at outbreaks in Northern California, Oregon, Colorado, and Wyoming. And we’ll zoom in on particularly aggressive blazes, like the Creek Fire near the John Muir Trail, which resulted in heroic night-time helicopter evacuations. In one night, the East Troublesome Fire leaped across the Continental Divide in Colorado’s Rocky Mountain National Park, torching an area 31 miles long and 17 miles wide (50 km x 27 km).

By helping backpackers visualize the rapid growth and monstrous size of these blazes, we can be better prepared for the changing risks in our new wildfire era. For more about adjusting to this altered environment, see the recently published stories “Adapting to Changing Wildfires: Part One” and “Part Two.”

Be safe out there. And thank the firefighters and EMS staff that worked hard to defend your friends, communities, and favorite outdoor destinations.

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DISCLOSURE (Updated April 9, 2024)

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