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August 12, 2016

Not all wildfires are bad, such as the one in this week's EarthView...

EarthViews is a continuing series in which we share a USGS Image of the Week featuring the USGS/NASA Landsat program. From the artistry of Earth imagery to natural and human-caused land change over time, check back every Friday to finish your week with a visual flourish!

Landsat 8 shows the effects of a wildfire in Guadalupe Mountains National Park in Texas. Credit: USGS/NASA Landsat Program.

The EarthView: Landsat Reveals Scar of ‘Good Burn’ at Guadalupe Mountains


Wildfires in wilderness areas like Guadalupe Mountains National Park in west Texas are always a danger, but they can produce what land managers call a „good burn,” too. The Coyote Fire that scorched parts of Guadalupe Mountains from May 7, 2016, until June 17 is a prime example of that.

Pre- and post-fire images acquired with shortwave infrared (SWIR), near infrared (NIR), and red bands on Landsat 8's Operational Land Imager sensor reveal a significant, 14,442-acre burn scar within the park's high country. The burn scar appears red in the June 23 image. Lightning started the wildfire, and strong winds drove it to the Texas-New Mexico border.

Landsat 8 shows Guadalupe Mountains National Park in Texas prior to a wildfire. Credit: USGS/NASA Landsat Program.

As many as 300 firefighters worked to keep the blaze from encroaching on private lands or reaching park structures, while officials decided to let portions of the fire simply burn. The Guadalupe Mountains' rugged backcountry makes firefighting dangerous. On top of that, areas of the densely wooded park hadn't burned in almost a century. Unharnessed, the Coyote Fire consumed dead wood and saplings that could have fueled future catastrophic blazes. Land managers also avoided drenching the wilderness in retardants and scarring the landscape with lines dug by firefighters trying to cut off the fire.

In this 100th anniversary year of the National Park Service, new grass growing on charred ground at Guadalupe Mountains National Park is an important reminder that sometimes fire can be a good thing.

Hungry for some science, but you don’t have time for a full-course research plate? Then check out USGS Science Snippets, our snack-sized science series that focuses on the fun, weird, and fascinating stories of USGS science.

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