Swirling Smoke From Alaskan Forest Fire Seen From Space

alaska funny river fire from space
NASA's Aqua satellite captured this image of Alaska's Funny River fire on May 20, 2014. (Image credit: NASA images courtesy of the LANCE/EOSDIS Rapid Response team.)

Its smoke echoing the swirls of the clouds, Alaska's Funny River fire burns in a new satellite image from NASA.

Taken yesterday (May 20), the satellite image shows the site of the fire in red. State officials have told the news media that the fire was probably caused by a campfire that was not properly extinguished. As of 9 p.m. local time yesterday, the fire was burning over 20,000 acres (81 square kilometers), according to Alaska's news channel KTUU.

The site of the fire is near the Funny River Horse Trail in south-central Alaska, and smoke was blanketing portions of the Kenai peninsula as of late yesterday.

"Low RH's [relative humidity] combined with high winds, and competing nearby fires stretching ground and aerial resources thin are making containment difficult," fire officials wrote in a situation report from the Alaska Interagency Coordination Center (AICC) this morning (May 21).

The NASA image of the fire comes courtesy of the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer on the agency's Aqua satellite. Along with its partner satellite Terra, Aqua images the entire surface of the Earth every one to two days. [Earth from Above: 101 Stunning Images from Orbit]

Multiple fires are burning across the state today (May 21), fueled by wind and high temperatures. Another south-central fire that began Monday prompted the evacuation of the village of Tyonek, though residents have been allowed to return, according to the AICC. Shifting winds instead drove the Tyonek fire toward the town of Beluga, and that town remains under threat today, AICC officials reported. The fire has burned about 1,500 acres (6 square km).  

Other fires currently being fought are the North Fork Montana Creek fire north of Anchorage, which burned 3 acres (0.01 sq km), and the 100 Mile Creek fire in the east-central part of the state, which burned 115 acres (0.5 square km). Another 14 small fires are being monitored by the state's Division of Forestry.

Alaska's neighbor across the Bering Strait is struggling with wildfires, as well. Russia's Irkutsk region in Eastern Siberia is the site of dozens of active fires, also driven by wind and warmth. According to an April article in The Siberia Times, wildfire season hit Siberia early this year, with 17 fires recorded by April 2. Several western Siberian cities also experienced record-breaking heat on April 1.

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Stephanie Pappas
Live Science Contributor

Stephanie Pappas is a contributing writer for Live Science, covering topics ranging from geoscience to archaeology to the human brain and behavior. She was previously a senior writer for Live Science but is now a freelancer based in Denver, Colorado, and regularly contributes to Scientific American and The Monitor, the monthly magazine of the American Psychological Association. Stephanie received a bachelor's degree in psychology from the University of South Carolina and a graduate certificate in science communication from the University of California, Santa Cruz.