Imagery captured on August 12, 2016. Image ©2016 Planet Labs, Inc. cc-by-sa 4.0

Fire Watch: Monitoring Flames in Portugal

Portugal is on fire. In August, 2016, alone, more than 40,000 hectares have burned on mainland Portugal, mostly in the north. But the fires aren’t restricted to the mainland — record flames have claimed homes and lives on the resort island of Madeira. Across the country, these fires are striking during the peak summer months when Portugal hosts vacationing tourists, contributing to €300M in damages and economic impact.

Fires are a natural part of the summer season in regions with Mediterranean climate — but these recent fires are exceptionally large in scope. Authorities have concluded that many of these fires are a result of arson or reckless forestry management on private land.

From space, Planet’s satellites capture flames in in the hills over Calheta, Madeira over a period of just 24 hours:

Imagery captured on August 12 and August 13, 2016. Images ©2016 Planet Labs, Inc. cc-by-sa 4.0

On the mainland, another active wildfire burns in CELORICO da Beira, near the border of Parque Natural da Serra da Estrela — Portugal’s largest protected area:

Imagery captured on July 11 and August 13, 2016. Images ©2016 Planet Labs, Inc. cc-by-sa 4.0.

And just 50 km to the south, another fire consumes hectares of brush land outside the town of Vila Nova de Tazem, Portugal. The dramatic changes in this imagery happened over just a 7-day period:

A black burn scar expands across mainland Portugal. Captured on August 8 and August 15, 2016. Images ©2016 Planet Labs, Inc. cc-by-sa 4.0

Further north, in Póvoa do Lanhoso, we see the burn scars of massive summer wildfires, with an active burn still visible:

Imagery captured on July 14 and August 15, 2016. Images ©2016 Planet Labs, Inc. cc-by-sa 4.0

Not far away in the northern town of Beiral do Lima, heavy smoke from an active fire and related haze blanket the landscape:

RapidEye satellite imagery captured on July 14 and August 13, 2016. Images ©2016 Planet Labs, Inc. cc-by-sa 4.0.

In the last seven days, Planet has captured a massive amount of imagery of the Portugal mainland and its remote islands. This imagery is days—if not hours—old; and can help first responders and authorities track the progress and devastation of the fires as they develop.

Planet’s online database showing recent imagery of Portugal, where the fires can be tracked and analyzed. Image ©2016 Planet Labs, Inc. cc-by-sa 4.0.

The international community — including Russia, Morocco, Spain and Italy — is doing what it can to help fight the blazes, including lending equipment, manpower, and aid. Organizers on the ground and crisis mappers at a computer need the most up-to-date imagery available immediately. During a wildfire or natural disaster, when critical decisions need to be made quickly, rapid imaging and high resolution data can fulfill the need for real-time information and help organizers on the ground direct resources quickly and effectively.