Numerous Wildfires Rage in Hot and Dry Pacific Northwest

By Tom Yulsman | July 18, 2014 1:16 pm

Smoke plumes from wildfires burning throughout the Pacific Northwest are circled in this image acquired by NASA’s Terra satellite on Thursday, July 17, 2014. Click to see detail in a larger, high-resolution image. (Source: NASA)

| Updated 7/19/14, 10 a.m. MDT: see new image below |

Ignited by lightning strikes on hot and tinder dry forests, more than a dozen large wildfires are raging throughout the Pacific Northwest of the United States and up into British Columbia.


Click for interactive map.

In Oregon and Washington alone, more than 310,000 acres were ablaze as of yesterday (July 17), according to the Northwest Interagency Coordination Center. That’s an area more than twice the size of the city of Chicago. For an interactive map of the wildfires, click on the thumbnail at right.

The image at the top of the post, acquired by NASA’s Aqua satellite yesterday, provides a broad geographic overview of the region. I’ve circled some of the obvious wildfire complexes in Oregon and Washington and also extending up into British Columbia, where plumes of smoke can be seen streaming from fires there. Click on the image for a larger, high-resolution version that shows quite a bit of detail.

| Update, 7/19/14: Here’s a dramatic overview image, from the U.S. Weather Service in Boise, Idaho, showing the fire situation as of two days ago:


Satellite imagery from July 17th reveals the spread of smoke from multiple wildfires burning in the Western United States. (Source: National Weather Service, Boise, Idaho.)

 Here’s closer view captured yesterday (Friday, July 18) by the Aqua satellite of fires blazing in Oregon:


A closer view of wildfires burning in Oregon, acquired by the Aqua satellite on July 17, 2014. (Source: NASA)

July and August are normally the driest months in the Northwestern United States. Even so, more than 70 percent of Oregon is now in drought, according to the latest report of the U.S. Drought Monitor, issued yesterday. (Click here for a map of drought conditions in the state.) And temperatures in the Northwest overall have recently averaged 8 to 12 degrees F above normal, with highs in the 90’s and 100’s.


A closeup view of wildfires burning in Washington state on Thursday, July 17, 2014, as seen by NASA’s Aqua satellite. Puget Sound, with the city of Seattle on its eastern shore, is at the extreme left of the image. (Source: NASA)

Conditions in Washington state are not as dry as they are in Oregon. Even so, half of the state is abnormally dry, and 33 percent is experiencing moderate to severe drought. (Click here for a map of drought conditions in Washington.)


Large plumes of bluish smoke can be seen streaming from wildfires in British Columbia in this image captured Thursday, July 17, 2014 by NASA’s Aqua satellite. (Source: NASA)

Two significant wildfires and one smaller one are visible in the image of British Columbia above, acquired by the Aqua satellite yesterday. Near the left edge of the image is the Eutsuk Lake Fire, currently estimated at 3,576 acres by the British Columbia Wildfire Management Branch. To the east are the two much larger fires. First is the Chelaslie River Fire estimated at 32,124 acres. And still farther east is the Euchiniko Lakes blaze, currently at 17,297 acres.

According to the three-month outlook from the U.S. Climate Prediction Center, the odds are better than even that Oregon and Washington, as well as California, Nevada and parts of Arizona, Utah, Idaho and Montana, will experience above normal temperatures. And for much this region, drought conditions are expected to persist through at least the end of October.

So we should expect heightened wildfire activity to continue. Stay tuned…

  • Nancy Freeman

    We have a bad situation in Arizona also. The D.C. gang refuse to do fire prevention. We had a case here in AZ–the Wallow Fire–that showed that the Forest owned and maintained by the White Mountain Apaches helped stop the spread of the fire. I wrote a report and sent to Congress along with a MoveOn petition. Senator Heinrich of New Mexico is trying to do something in Congress. I will be sending them an update this week, and will include information on soil erosion and flooding in forest fire regions and the link to this excellent article. The link to my report (which are alway long–but informed)

    • BigSkyDan

      wait it’s up to Washington to prevent forest fires, Really??? Smokey the Bear would disagree.

      • Nancy Freeman

        It’s public lands–and if they don’t put money into making fire lines and cleaning underbrush–who will?

        • BigSkyDan

          Science shows that forests need to burn every once in a while to give the ecosystem a reboot. If we start cleaning underbrush and making fire lines the EPA will have a cow. The same reason why you can’t collect dead firewood at campgrounds. These fires in Washington are not caused by underbrush anyway, they are different than Arizona wildfires. These are crown fires in that literally by and large only the tops of the trees burn and are fed by strong winds. Whats left is a bunch of dead charred trees and in many cases the underbrush doesn’t burn.

          • Former Methow Resident

            That’s simply not true… most of the fire in the Carlton Complex was sage brush… of course there were pockets of treed areas that burned. The new Eagle fire is a combination of both Pine trees and sage land….By the way, if they wouldn’t let the Pine Beetle and bud worm go rampant, a lot of these forests wouldn’t burn to begin with!!!!

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ImaGeo is a visual blog focusing on the intersection of imagery, imagination and Earth. It focuses on spectacular visuals related to the science of our planet, with an emphasis (although not an exclusive one) on the unfolding Anthropocene Epoch.

About Tom Yulsman

Tom Yulsman is Director of the Center for Environmental Journalism and a Professor of Journalism at the University of Colorado, Boulder. He also continues to work as a science and environmental journalist with more than 30 years of experience producing content for major publications. His work has appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, Audubon, Climate Central, Columbia Journalism Review, Discover, Nieman Reports, and many other publications. He has held a variety of editorial positions over the years, including a stint as editor-in-chief of Earth magazine. Yulsman has written one book: Origins: the Quest for Our Cosmic Roots, published by the Institute of Physics in 2003.


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