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Weather Forecasting

Video: How Do Wildfires Spread?

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Video transcript

How Do Wildfires Spread?

Wildfires are uncontrolled fires that spread quickly and can destroy homes and the environment nearby.

But how do these fires start—and how do they spread and become dangerous so quickly?

It all starts with a spark.

Lots of things can cause a spark. Such as, a burning ember that blows away from a campfire…


Heat from the sun…

Or, often, human error.

In fact, most wildfires in the US are sparked by human activity.

If a spark happens in the presence of oxygen and fuel—such as dry grass, brush or trees—a fire can start.

And conditions in the weather and environment can cause the fire to spread quickly.

Fires need lots of fuel to grow. Unfortunately, overgrown forests and thick vegetation can fuel a fire to grow out of control.

The weather can also make fire worse. For example, drought, winds and extreme heat can make a fire bigger, faster and more dangerous.

But before taking action, firefighters need to understand where a fire is—and how exactly these environmental and weather conditions will affect the fire.

With a view from high above Earth, weather satellites such as NOAA’s GOES satellites can provide information to help firefighters—and the rest of us—stay safe.

With their special vision, weather satellites like GOES can detect fire and smoke—and see the heat of very small fires—before they are spotted on the ground.

Meteorologists also use data from GOES satellites to give firefighters an up-to-the-minute forecast of changing wildfire conditions.

Smoke from a fire can cause poor visibility for the helicopters and airplanes that are used to fight fires.

It can also cause bad air quality, which is unhealthy for the people who live and work nearby.

GOES satellites monitor this smoke and can help firefighters determine when it will be safe to fly—and when it’s safe for anyone to spend time outside.

Wildfires can be really scary.

Thankfully, GOES satellites are always up there keeping an eye on things to try and help us stay safe!