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Devastating Wildfire Can Be Seen From Space

Weather satellites show the destructive power of a California wildfire that came dangerously close to Yosemite National Park.

See Animations of California Wildfires from Space

In California, summer is wildfire season, and this year has been no exception. So far the state has seen record high temperatures and numerous large brush fires. And now, thanks to developing technology, fire department officials are able to see a fire's movements from space.

One of the largest recent fires in California has been the Detwiler fire. Since it began on July 16, the blaze has burned across 80,000 acres, destroyed 63 residences, and threatened nearly 1,500 more. Thousands of people have had to evacuate their homes, more than 2,000 firefighters have been deployed, and the fire has also come perilously close to Yosemite National Park.

But now firefighters are turning to another tool to battle the blaze: an out-of-this-world approach.

They are using images taken by the GOES-R satellite (short for Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite—R Series), developed by NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Time-Lapse: The Beauty and Danger of California’s Wildfires

Satellite video from July 18 shows the Detwiler fire, with winds blowing the smoke northeast. Images of the fire can be seen during both day and night, with the fire appearing to burn vibrantly.

The images are not quite like those from a typical camera or what one would see with the naked eye if one were circling the Earth. The special images are instead created by overlaying infrared images onto geocolor, the Earth-like colors produced by the 16 spectral bands aboard the satellite. GOES-R's images are essentially a heat map created using the satellite's different spectral bands to detect the fire's hot spots.

In addition to helping firefighters monitor blazing fires, GOES-R has also been used to monitor other potentially disastrous weather. Earlier this month, the satellite captured images of three tropical storms in the eastern Pacific, tornado cells in Iowa, and a solar eruption.

As of July 25, 65 percent of the fire had been contained and evacuation orders for the area had been lifted. The California fire department is hopeful that higher levels of humidity in the area will help fire fighters slowly make progress.

The Detwiler fire is one of the largest seen in California this summer, but not the largest ever witnessed in the state. In August of 2013, one devastating fire burned a total of 257,314 acres.