NASA Photos: California Fires Seen From Space as Giant Plumes of Smoke

Thick plumes of smoke so thick and extensive they could be seen from space bellowed from raging fires in southern California through Tuesday night.

ventura_tmo_2017239 Thick smoke streamed from several fires in southern California when the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Terra satellite captured this natural-color image in the afternoon on December 5. NASA/Joshua Stevens

NASA captured the photo Tuesday afternoon from the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on the Terra satellite, which shows the quickest and largest blaze, the Thomas Fire in Ventura County, and two smaller fires south of Ventura. The larger fire has destroyed more than 50,000 acres, according to Cal Fire, the state's Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. Two smaller fires, Rye and Creek, in Los Angeles County, have destroyed 5,000 and more than 11,000 acres respectively. (Per Cal Fire, fires are typically named for the areas where they start.) The fire, which began Monday night, has forced 27,000 people to flee their homes.  

“The fire is very dangerous and spreading rapidly, but we’ll continue to attack it with all we’ve got,” Governor Jerry Brown said Tuesday in a statement. “It’s critical residents stay ready and evacuate immediately if told to do so.”

Wednesday morning, another fire—the Skirball Fire—broke out in the Sepulveda Pass, according to the National Weather Service. Winds are expected to be weaker than Tuesday, but strengthen again Thursday night. The fire is much smaller, but prompted mandatory evacuations in the area, reported Fox 11 Los Angeles. It rapidly grew from six acres to at least 50, as crews worked in 25 mile per hour winds. Over 225 city firefighters were on the scene. The fire was “topography driven,” rather than wind driven, according to a spokeswoman for the Los Angeles Fire Department.

The Thomas Fire reached the Pacific Ocean by Wednesday morning, burning through the city of Ventura, jumping highways and blowing through oilfields before reaching Solimar Beach, the Los Angeles Times reported. Brown declared a state of emergency. More than 1,000 personnel continued to fight the fire. Hundreds of homes have been destroyed—though that number is likely low.

Santa Ana winds intensified the fires, and the National Weather Service warned that the region is in the middle of the strongest and longest wind event of the year. Wind gusts of 80 miles per hour are possible (that would be in the range of a Category 1 hurricane). There is a red flag warning in Ventura and Los Angeles through Friday. The main impacts of such gusts of wind are very rapid fire spread and extreme fire behavior, downed trees and power lines, blowing dust and power outages.

The Southern California fires this week come nearly two months after the California wildfires in Sonoma County which left at least 40 people dead. Over 11,000 firefighters battled the blaze while looking for survivors, and thousands of homes were destroyed. 

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