Here’s What Smoke from California’s Wildfires Looks Like from Space

The Camp Fire on November 9 in Northern California. Photo by Stuart Rankin/Flickr

Several wildfires are still burning through California. The Camp Fire in Northern California has killed at least 48 people and is now the deadliest ever recorded. The fire has burned 130,000 acres near Paradise, 80 miles north of Sacramento.

Satellite imagery and active fire locations from the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS).

Near Thousand Oaks, Woolsey Fire and Hill Fire have also burned nearly 102,000 acres and killed two people.

Paradise, Malibu and other communities have been devastated by these fires. But beyond the local trauma, residents throughout California are seeing smoke plumes clouding the air. UC Davis cancelled classes last week due to unhealthy air quality.

Satellite imagery and active fire locations from the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS).

Data on Resource Watch shows the smoke and air pollution created by these fires. Fine particulate matter (PM2.5) is an easily inhalable pollutant linked to heart and lung problems, asthma and more. Any level of exposure to fine particulate matter increases health risks, but daily exposure of more than 25 micrograms per cubic meter (μg/m3) can be hazardous, according to the World Health Organization. (A microgram is one-millionth of a gram.) A few days after the Camp Fire started, hazardous air conditions spread throughout Northern California. In Chico, a town located just outside of Paradise, PM2.5 levels were over 152 μg/m3 on November 13 and 14. In the same time period, Yuba City experienced PM2.5 concentrations above 200 μg/m3. Downtown San Francisco saw PM2.5 levels exceeding 85 μg/m3.

These wildfires endanger the environment, economies and health across the western United States. While Camp Fire has been the deadliest on record, it’s hardly the only devastating fire that California experienced this year. Just this August, the Mendocino Complex Fire was declared the largest fire in California’s history, burning more than 400,000 acres.

NASA’s VIIRS fires data and PM2.5 measurements from OpenAQ are updated daily. Check Resource Watch to spot fires and air pollution in your neck of the woods.

This blog was originally published on Resource Watch.

Emily Cassidy is a Data Journalist for the World Resources Institute, where she works to expand visibility and impact of WRI’s research and the Resource Watch platform.

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