Wildfires raging on more than a million acres in Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas leave at least six people dead

By Tom Yulsman | March 7, 2017 7:40 pm

The wildfires show up clearly in these animations of satellite imagery

Southern Plains wildfires

An animation of images from NASA’s Terra satellite shows fires burning across Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas. The first image in the sequence is in natural color; the second is in a false color scheme that highlights burned areas; and the third shows where the satellite detected active burning. (Images: NASA Worldview. Animation: Tom Yulsman)

Fierce winds, temperatures in the 80s, and low humidity, have whipped up deadly wildfires in the Southern Plains that so far have killed at least six people and prompted the evacuation of thousands.

The wildfires appear to have gotten started late Sunday into Monday — and then exploded today. A fire official in Kansas told the Wichita Eagle that the fire emergency there was “unprecedented.”

“We’ve had bad fires and we’ve had really bad fires but never multiples at once like this,” said Eric Ward, a fire specialist with the Kansas Forest Service, quoted by the newspaper.

I made the animation above using images acquired today by NASA’s Terra satellite. Smoke plumes and burn scars are easily visible.

Here’s what one of the fires in Kansas looked like from the air today:

All told, some 400,000 acres were burning across multiple Kansas counties today. Just to the south in Oklahoma, another 200,000 to 300,000 acres were burning, according to the Oklahoma Forestry Services department. And in Texas about 480,000 acres were ablaze, according to the Texas A&M Forest Service.

Put all that acreage together and you’ve got an area equivalent to six times the size of the City of New York.

Southern Plains wildfires

An animation of GOES-East weather satellite images acquired on March 7, 2017 reveals smoke plumes from multiple wildfires erupting in northern Texas, the panhandle of Oklahoma, and southern Kansas. (Images: NOAA. Animation: Tom Yulsman)

In this animation of GOES weather satellite images, you can see the same areas depicted in the imagery at the top of this post. The animation shows smoke plumes erupting from burning areas as high winds kick in.

“We’re not out of the woods, by any means,” Gov. Sam Brownback said Tuesday afternoon. “We’ve got to stay on top of this.”

  • OWilson

    It’s not all bad.

    Mother Nature uses forest fires to her advantage!

    “”Fire, the primary change agent in the Boreal Zone, is as crucial to forest renewal as the sun and rain. Forest fires release valuable nutrients stored in the litter on the forest floor. They open the forest canopy to sunlight, which stimulates new growth. They allow some tree species, like lodgepole and jack pine, to reproduce, opening their cones and freeing their seeds. Learn more about the effects of wildfire in the forest””.- Natural Resources Canada

    “”Ontario’s forests need regular renewal by fire. The Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry is taking some steps in the right direction with a new policy that could allow more fires to be left to burn in northern Ontario to provide ecological benefits and reduce
    safety risks. Now the ministry needs to let more fires burn when and where they are needed and
    appropriate”. Ontario Ministry of Resources.

    Forest Fires:

    “Help new grasses and shrubs to grow, attracting meadow voles, other rodents, and grouse. Foxes, martens, and birds of prey soon follow. Increase herbs and willow shoots for moose to browse in burned areas. The new berry bushes attract bears.Recycle nutrients into the soil. Clear dense shrubbery and warm the soil, resulting in improved drainage and fertility.

    Wildfires shape the landscape by creating a patchwork of meadows, shrub lands, birch, and spruce forests.”” – Alaska Public Lands Information Service.



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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