Animations of Satellite Images Show the Massive Lake Fire Burning Out of Control Near Los Angeles

By Tom Yulsman | June 19, 2015 1:00 pm
Lake Fire

Animation of true- and false-color satellite images of the Lake Fire burning east of Los Angeles. (Source: NASA Worldview)

A wildfire covering an area more than half the size of Manhattan Island is burning out of control in the San Bernardino National Forest east of Los Angeles.

As I write this on Friday morning (June 19), it has scorched 11,000 acres and is only 10 percent contained, according to InciWeb, the federal incident information system. The cause of the blaze, called the Lake Fire, has yet to be determined. It threatens 150 structures; none are believed to be damaged so far.

California’s epic drought has raised fears that this fire season could be very serious. The Lake Fire is the biggest wildfire in California so far this year.

I created the animation above using images of the blaze and surrounding area acquired by NASA’s Aqua satellite on Thursday, June 18, 2015. The false-color image emphasizes the area of active burning in orange colors. The true-color images clearly shows a giant smoke plume.

Lake Fire

A broad view of the southwestern United States and parts of Mexico, acquired Thursday, June 18, 2015, by NASA’s Aqua satellite. (Source: NASA Worldview)

As the broader view above shows, that smoke plume extends a very long distance across the southwestern United States. The plume seems to have two forks. The northerly one extends up to Lake Mead near Las Vegas, about 250 miles away. At its farthest, wispiest extent, the southerly fork of the plume runs about 300 miles to the east — by my reckoning, all the way to Sedona, Arizona.

Next is an animation of GOES-West weather satellite images:

Lake Fire

Animation of GOES weather satellite images covering Southern California from San Diego to Los Angeles. (Images: NOAA. Animation: Tom Yulsman)

Note the prominent black spot east of the Southern California coast in the first half of the animation. These are infrared images acquired by the satellite at night, and the black spot is indicative of heat from the Lake Fire. After sunrise the images switch to visible light — and the smoke plume from the fire becomes dramatically evident.

Lastly, the photo in the Tweet above from NBC Los Angeles shows what the fire looks like from a helicopter.

I’ll be keeping an eye on the Lake Fire, including watching for imagery from today’s passes over the region by NASA’s Terra and Aqua satellites. So make sure to check back for any updates.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Climate, Drought, select, Top Posts, Wildfire
  • OWilson

    In the media wildfires are often associated with global warming, or climate change, and we have had more than a few articles on them here in a Climate Change blog.

    Australia recently was the location of the usual hand wringing:

    “Baked Australia: Bushfires Blaze as New Report Pins Blame for Intense Heat Waves on Climate Change”. was a recent blog here.

    What is usually missing from these disturbing graphic laced articles is a few facts, not usually available to the low info voter.

    Worldwide, fires are not significantly increasing.

    50 percent of Austarlia’s wildfires are attributed to arson, or “suspicious” circumstances, and overall, 85% are man caused through intent or accident.

    95% of California’s wildfires are attributed to direct man made causes, including arson and accident.

    And finally, ecologically speaking, many species of plants and animals depend on periodic burning in order to thrive and procreate. SDome would not survive without them.

    (Your welcome!)

    • Matt Schlutz

      True. Climate change is not the source of ignition. But you would be far harder pressed to suggest that climate change is not a significant factor in the extent of damage, and severity. Hydrological changes, which are caused by climate change, provide the accelerant. Just as Australias bushfires are far more severe, by arson or otherwise, as a result of anthropomorphic climate change.

      • OWilson

        Occam’s razor would suggest that if most forest fires these days involve deliberate arson and negligent human activities in fire prone areas, we should not be blaming it all on long term weather.

        (Unless I want to make a few bucks off the deal from the low info folk, using big words they’ll never understand).

        • Matt Schlutz

          I would say that if the FBI still thinks they are the greatest domestic terrorist threat, than that is deeply, deeply concerning. Perhaps they don’t place a high enough value on human life… I would prefer my taxes to be spent on preventing mass murder quite simply.

          Moreover, whats the relevance of that departure? Are you suggesting these eco-terrorists are responsible for the blazes across the west coast?

          • OWilson

            I’m suggesting that your government are either lying to you, or are abominably incompetent, when they claim that long term weather (the definition of climate) is, “The Greatest Threat to Mankind”.

            Terrorism. domestic and international, nuclear proliferation, insurrection and revolution in Nuclear States, are just a few of the dangers they overlook.


            What exactly IS their agenda?

          • Matt Schlutz

            I agree, the Australian Government is abominably incompetent. But be careful of your pulpit Owilson. As the unfortunate bunch of misfits that rule the roost in Australia, are currently a bunch of climate skeptics and nutbags… much like the American Republican party.

            The Prime Minister that coined the ‘Greatest moral challenge of our time’, was some time ago. We’ve been sliding back ever since.

            Anywho, this is a science magazine, and I apologise for my part in provoking you, as I was not intending to get political. But could not provide a counter-view into how climate change is in fact affecting the disasters proliferating across the US and elsewhere. While one event may not be able to attributed, we can certainly say with a very high degree of confidence that there severity and frequency will increase. If malaria spreads places it hasn’t traditionally been, because of changes to the climate, while it is still malaria killing those people, it wouldn’t have happened otherwise.

            And another spin. Climate change has an effect on international security, which has an effect on the ability of regions to spawn terrorism. Syria; drought. Dafur; drought. Resource scarcity & reliability is fundamental to terrorisms success. Even the White House acknowledges this.

            Don’t diminish what a complex ecological and social web we live in.

          • OWilson

            You are late to the party here. It was discussed here at great length, as well as in the late great blog Collide a Scape.

            Terrorism, war, revolution and it’s link to “climate change” is a tenuous one indeed.

            You can make scientific a case that climate affects every living thing, but you’d be hard pressed to blame the 100 million deaths in the last century, by China, Germany, Japan and the USSR on “long term weather”.

            Or the current centuries old Islamist goal of a world wide Caliphate.


    • amanda.brown54

      If you are looking for extra cash averaging $50 to $300 each day for freelancing from your couch at home for several hrs every day then this may interest you…

  • MichaelAHurd

    All time hit the discovermagazine Find Here

  • OWilson

    Here’s an update.

    The Lake fire is under control, it is not growing, and the recent heavy rains have now prompted fears of “mudslides” in the area.

    Ain’t Ma Nature great?



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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