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Florida Wildfire Spied from Space
A plume of smoke drifts over a Florida wildfire.
Credit: NASA.

A satellite snapped an image this week of a massive plume of smoke hovering over a Florida forest. The smoke is coming from a large wildfire that has raged in the region since it was sparked by a lightning strike in the early hours of April 5.

Known as the County Line Wildfire, it has burned approximately 18 square miles (47 square kilometers) of the Osceola National Forest in the far northern part of the Sunshine State.

Yesterday (April 9), the National Weather Service warned Floridians that smoke would likely move east and affect the Jacksonville area, with visibility sharply reduced close to the wildfire.

An image of smoke from Florida's County Line Wildfire captured by a satellite.
An image of smoke from Florida's County Line Wildfire captured by a satellite.
Credit: NASA.

Florida isn't the only state battling fire. Wildfires have raged in Virginia, Colorado and even on Staten Island in New York this week.  

Although the fires on Staten Island are now under control, thick smoke halted traffic on New York bridges yesterday. In Colorado and Virginia, the fires continue to burn.

After an unusually mild winter that saw little snow, many places in the eastern United States and as far west as the Rockies are unusually dry. High winds in recent days have made conditions ripe for the spread of wildfires, and large portions of the East Coast, pockets of the Midwest and Southwest, and nearly all of Kentucky are under red flag warnings today, a designation issued by local National Weather Service offices.

"A red flag warning means that critical fire weather conditions are either occurring now, or will shortly. A combination of strong winds, low relative humidity and warm temperatures will create explosive fire growth potential," according to the National Weather Service website.

In the second image of the fire, just west of the fire itself, a number of pyrocumulus clouds are visible. Large fires can rapidly heat the air above a fire, and the heated air rises with smoke until water vapor in the atmosphere condenses into a puffy cloud.

In satellite imagery, pyrocumulus clouds appear as patches of white atop dark columns of smoke. Sometimes very large wildfires can actually create powerful thunderstorms that produce rain and lightning. Although the rain does little to mitigate the fires, the lightning can create even more dangerous conditions for firefighters.

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