Tracking wild fires in Google Earth

It is fire season in the western states of the US and one recent fire in California has been named the fourth most destructive in California’s history. US president Obama has declared it a major disaster.

  • We have looked at a number of resources for tracking wild fires in the past. The best ones include:

  • The US Department of Agriculture Forest Service provides a variety of fire information via KMLs. To get all the data at once download this KML.

  • One of the sources of data used is NASA’s Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) whose data can be obtained directly from NASA via this web page. NASA provides MODIS data for the whole globe. You can get fire data for a particular region of the earth, or download KMLs with data for the whole globe. Keep in mind that the the global ones are quite big and may cause performance issues in Google Earth.

The Californian government provides a website called CAL FIRE which includes a lot of information about fires, including this map of wild fires in California showing the actual extents of the fires. You can view it in Google Earth with this KML file.

As far as we can tell, the most recent imagery in Google Earth is from August 18th, so we cannot currently see the damage caused by the fires. However, it is possible to download Landsat imagery and view it in Google Earth and actually see some of the land affected by the recent fires. We previously experimented with getting Landsat data into Google Earth. The method we showed you required some rather large downloads. We have since found that if quality is not an issue then the easiest way to quickly check Landsat imagery is as follows:

  • The following instructions require Google Earth Pro (which is free).
  • Start with USGS Earth Explorer. Find the location you are interested in and mark it on the map.
  • On the datasets tab, select Landsat Archive->L8 OLI/TIRS
  • Click the ‘Results’ button.
  • Choose an image closest to the date you are interested in. Ignore any night time images (almost entirely black). In our case we found one covering part of California just north of San Francisco, captured on September 20th.
  • Click the icon next to the image labelled ‘download options’.
  • Download the file labelled “LandsatLook images with Geographic Reference”.
  • Unzip the downloaded files to a folder on your computer.
  • Find the file named with just the Landsat reference number and a .jpg extension. Drag it to Google Earth Pro.
  • Google Earth Pro automatically detects where to place it and creates an image overlay for you. However, it says that the image exceeds the maximum allowed size. You can choose to either crop the image, or scale it. In our case we chose to scale it.

This is what the result looks like in Google Earth:


To view it in Google Earth you can simply download this KML file.

Comparing this with the above mentioned CAL FIRE map, we find that the two large brown patches south-east of Clear Lake almost exactly match the outlines given for Valley Fire, Jerusalem Fire and Rocky Fire.


Getting the outlines to show on top of the image overlay required adjusting their altitude to 1000m above ground.


Fires detected by MODIS in the last 24 hours in central Africa. There are actually far more fires in Africa right now than in California. Hopefully they are less devastating.

About Timothy Whitehead

Timothy has been using Google Earth since 2004 when it was still called Keyhole before it was renamed Google Earth in 2005 and has been a huge fan ever since. He is a programmer working for Red Wing Aerobatx and lives in Cape Town, South Africa.



Comments

  1. I run a group on Facebook called “Google Earth Fire Watch Plus”. Come check out the group and join up.

  2. Christiaan Adams says:

    Timothy, we have fresh imagery of the fires available in this KML file:
    http://mw1.google.com/crisisresponse/2015/us_wildfires/2015_us_wildfires_imagery_nl.kml

  3. Yes #Butte and #Valley both.

  4. There is a newer, higher resolution instrument, VIIRS, now in operation mapping thermal surface features, including wildfires. See these pages- http://viirsfire.geog.umd.edu/, http://activefiremaps.fs.fed.us/gisdata.php, http://activefiremaps.fs.fed.us/googleearth.php and http://activefiremaps.fs.fed.us/imagery_viirs.php.

  5. Interesting

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