California Fires – Satellite photos, Fire Data in Google Earth

[UPDATE August 31, 2009: the new Station Fire (or La Canada) can be seen in new maps available here.]
[UPDATE November 2008: If you’re looking for maps from the November 2008 fires (Sayre Fire, Tea Fire, etc.) read this post for detail and links to view maps in Google Earth for better 3D data.]
[UPDATE October 2008: The October 2008 fires in San Fernando Valley can be seen in another map for Google Earth/Maps from the LA Times. Read the details and links to the maps here.]
[UPDATE June 2008: This article is about the southern California fires in the fall of 2007. If you are interested in the new fires in Northern California of the summer of 2008, see this new post about the June 2008 fires.]
[UPDATE Oct 26: Google has posted a California fires master layer you can download showing several collections of satellite photos and maps.]
Yesterday I posted a KML file showing the smoke from the California fires from space as an image overlay in Google Earth. Since then, I’ve discovered a number of useful fire maps for Google Earth (and updated the original story). I’m re-organizing the best information here to make it more convenient and add additional information. Here are the main resources I recommend:

  1. USFS Fire Maps in Google EarthUS Forest Service Active Fires Map – The USFS has a web site dedicated to tracking active fires. They use a combination of satellites from space which detect the fires, and combine that with ground-based information to produce the maps. All data points are placemarks with further information. Check out the fire map for the continental US which includes the California fires.

  2. California Fires from NASA satellites in space in Google EarthNASA MODIS – NASA’s MODIS satellites are continuously taking photos of the Earth from space. They just released new photos showing smoke from the fires in California. A blogger in Spain has released a series of image overlays in Google Earth showing the smoke from several of these photos over the last few days. Open the “Incendios in California” folder and click on the different dates to see several different views of the smoke. [UPDATE: Here is a super image overlay (more detail as you zoom in) of the smoke from space by Matt Fox.]

  3. KPBS Fire Map – The radio station KPBS is maintaining an up-to-date map of the fire situation in San Diego. You can view the map in either Google Maps (see below), or view the map in Google Earth . This is an excellent example of being able to use the KML content to view in either 2D or 3D maps (which Google highlighted on their Lat Long blog). Here’s the Google Maps version:

    View Larger Map

  4. Time Animations – Google Earth Community member Joey Wade has produced some time animations for Google Earth. The first illustrates the spread of the fire over time from the MODIS Active Fire Maps. After viewing that, turn it off. Next, Joey produced an animation of the growth of the smoke plume from the biggest fire based on satellite photos. Select the “play” button to the right of the time slider to see the animations. Just make sure only one is selected at a time, or that you have the settings set to “Restrict time to the currently active folder”. See post 1, and post 2.

About Frank Taylor

Frank Taylor started the Google Earth Blog in July, 2005 shortly after Google Earth was first released. He has worked with 3D computer graphics and VR for many years and was very impressed with this exciting product. Frank completed a 5.5 year circumnavigation of the earth by sailboat in June 2015 which you can read about at Tahina Expedition, and is a licensed pilot, backpacker, diver, and photographer.

PLEASE NOTE: Google Earth Blog is no longer writing regular posts. As a result, we are not accepting new comments or questions about Google Earth. If you have a question, use the official Google Earth and Maps Forums or the Google Earth Community Forums.


  1. Great stuff but loading the Google Maps data into the browser page takes too long and freezes the page in the process. It would be great for Google to add an optional “click to load data” parameter as is already done with YouTube videos. If the user wants to see the map data (KML link), click a play button and it loads for next ~15 seconds with a “Loading Data…” message all the while. And if you don’t want to look at that content, you can continue to browse the page…

  2. KPBS is providing an EXCELLENT SERVICE with that map showing the evacuation areas, traffic closures and fire locations! There should be one for the WHOLE STATE! OR THE WHOLE COUNTRY! OR THE WORLD!!!!

  3. I just added the 3 remaining MODIS satellite images as superoverlays. Please update the link in the story to
    This will update with the new images and also any other images I add over the next several days automtically. Thanks.

  4. Michael Bacon says

    General question. How often are the images updated? I’ve had the same views at various locations for quite a while. Just curious.

  5. Matt,
    Thank you for posting this. It has been so frustrating trying to find information like this.

  6. Awesome service, thanks for putting this together.

  7. great map… will be linking to my website… up and running soon…. please post a blog or any interesting story.
    take care San Diego
    Mike in Poway

  8. I’ve created an interactive map of the fires in So Cal. It is available here:

  9. I’ve been following the KPBS, LA Times, and OC Register maps in Google Earth, and all of a sudden, this afternoon, all of the icons were lost (they became blue squares with X marks). Can anyone help me get the real icons back?

  10. we have been providing mapping support to the teams managing the poochama and rice fires, and have posted perimeters of the 2007 socal fires as KMLs on our website.

  11. I was wondering is there a time sheet when satellites take those images?

  12. Thank you for these maps but they are too little and maybe too late. Please use your resources (which are really public resources) to produce accurate up-to-the-minute maps as many in our fire state may need them to preserve life, limb and possessions. Here is your chance to really serve the public good. We’ve made you assume by our web presence, now work to preserve us, please.

  13. These satellites are active 24/7 or they wouldnt do anyone any good. RIGHT? They dont just turn em off now and again and back on when there is a fire…now that wouldnt make any sense would it?
    So why cant we, the citizens who paid for the dang things, HAVE REAL TIME IMAGES 24/7???

  14. The Google earth blog is excellent. With the help of Google earth blog we search any place in our country easily. Specially it will be help full for engineers.Thank you posting my message in blog.
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  15. The US Forest Service uses aircraft for a number of different missions, including operational personnel transport, forest rehabilitation, law enforcement support, aerial photography, and fire prevention and suppression. The agency owns about 30 aircraft and contracts with an additional 800 aircraft each year to support these missions.
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  16. Great stuff! Technology has true come a long way.Who would have ever thought that one day we would be able to detect fores from satellite. Absolutely, Amazing!

PLEASE NOTE: Google Earth Blog is no longer writing regular posts. As a result, we are not accepting new comments or questions about Google Earth. If you have a question, use the official Google Earth and Maps Forums or the Google Earth Community Forums.