The Camp Fire, the most devastating wildfire in California’s recorded history in terms of loss of life and infrastructure damage, began on November 8th near Pulga, California. Due to the inaccessible location of the fire and high winds, the Camp Fire quickly moved towards Paradise, a community popular with retirees and families, and within hours had destroyed the town. Unfortunately, many people were caught off guard by the fast-moving fire and at the time of writing, 77 people are known to have died and nearly 1,000 more are missing. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the families and friends of those lost and still missing because of this terrible tragedy.

The Camp Fire has burned about 150,000 acres and destroyed almost 13,000 structures, mostly homes, see Image One below. The fire is currently 65% contained and expected to be completely contained by November 30th. By using remote sensing techniques and algorithms designed specifically for assessing wildfires, PlanetWatchers was able to track the progression of the Camp Fire through the smoke and haze to show how the landscape changed.

Image One: Optical satellite image from European Space Agency satellite Sentinel-2 acquired on November 16th (eight days after the fire began) overlayed with the outline of the Camp Fire as of November 17th. While the frontline of fire is observable in this image, it is difficult to perform meaningful analysis on the affected area due to the heavy level of smoke. Click to enlarge

PlanetWatchers used synthetic aperture radar (SAR) satellite imagery to perform this analysis. The rationale for using this data source is threefold; (1) SAR imagery is capable of ‘seeing’ through smoke and clouds, (2) SAR imagery is collected on a reliable schedule allowing for change detection analysis and (3) SAR imagery collects different data based on the area of interest so large trees appear differently than shrubland and urban areas. The analysis that can be constructed from this technical data source allows for reliable monitoring, important change detection and constant data updates.

Image Two: PlanetWatchers’ processed radar images, from the European Space Agency synthetic aperture radar satellite Sentinel-1. This analysis shows the changes in the Camp Fire area between two Sentinel-1 satellite images; the first image was acquired on November 5th (three days before the fire began) and the second image was acquired on November 17th (nine days after the fire began). The different colors indicate the different level of damages for varying land cover types, yellow and orange areas represents burned locations that had lower levels of forests and more grasses and shrubland before the fire while red and purple areas show the locations that were more heavily damaged with more forested and urban areas. The grayscale image in the background is a Sentinel-1 image from Nov 17th. Click to enlarge

While the true emotional and financial toll of this tragic event may take months or years to determine, we at PlanetWatchers hope this information is helpful to those affected and we will be monitoring the situation and providing timely updates. If you are in or near the affected area we hope you and your loved ones remain safe.

For more information about PlanetWatchers’ geospatial analytics platform, please contact us.

Share this post