Suomi NPP Monitors Alberta’s Huge Wildfire

By Keith Cowing
May 9, 2016
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Suomi NPP Monitors Alberta’s Huge Wildfire
Fort McMurray wildfire

The Fort McMurray wildfire in Alberta, Canada, continues to burn and the smoke and heat from the intense fires are detectable by satellite.
The Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership satellite carries an instrument so sensitive to low light levels that it can detect wildfires in the middle of the night as well as during the daytime and captured day and night images.

On May 6, 2016 all of Fort McMurray is under a mandatory evacuation order. The Fort McMurray International Airport remains open at this time.

Suomi NPPs Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) instrument captured a look at the fire and the smoke generated by the fire during the daytime on May 5, 2016 at 3:45 p.m. EDT (19:45 UTC). In the image, the hotspots indicate the location of the fires. The smoke was blowing to the south-southeast of the fires in Fort McMurray. Suomi NPP is a joint mission of NASA, NOAA and the Department of Defense.

On May 6, 2016 at 5:56 a.m. EDT (0956 UTC), the VIIRS instrument on Suomi NPP acquired a nighttime image of the Fort McMurray wildfire by using its day-night band to sense the fire in the visible portion of the spectrum. In the image, the brightest parts of the fire appear white while smoke appears light gray.

According to the Alberta Department of Agriculture and Forestry (ADAF) on May 6, 2016 the following communities are under an evacuation order: Fort McMurray, Anzac, Gregoire Lake Estate and Fort McMurray First Nation. The high level evacuation order has been lifted (at noon MDT on May 5). For more details, visit the ADAF page:

Albertas Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo (RMWB) reported on May 5, 2016 at 9:20 p.m. MDT, that the Anzac/Gregoire Lake Estates and the Stone Creek Area remains an active fire zone. The Birchwood Trails remains a priority from a strategic firefighting standpoint and crews are working hard to protect this area. RMWB noted that gusting winds have been extremely challenging for fire crews and properties near green areas remain an issue due to sparks and high winds creating spot fires among housing. A plan is being developed for northern evacuees. For updates from RMWB, visit:

The Government of Alberta Transportation noted on May 6, 2016 that due to heavy smoke and fire, motorists are being asked not to travel to Fort McMurray on either Highway 63 or Highway 881. Highway 881 is closed to through traffic at Anzac, until further notice. For information about state of emergency, evacuation and reception centers, fuel locations, financial assistance, pets, boil water advisories, and social support services, visit:

On May 6, 2016 Alberta Emergency Alert posted that in Mackenzie County, the evacuation order will been lifted as of 12:00 p.m. MDT for residents living in Township 109 range 19 west of 5 between Townships road 1090 and 1094 east to the Bushe River, also 17,18,19,28,29,30,31,32 Township 108 Range 18 west 5. Residents are to remain on immediate alert in case the situation changes due to weather changes. For emergency information:

The Suomi NPP satellite is the first satellite mission to address the challenge of acquiring a wide range of land, ocean, and atmospheric measurements for Earth system science while simultaneously preparing to address operational requirements for weather forecasting. Suomi NPP also represents the gateway to the creation of a U.S. climate monitoring system, collecting both climate and operational weather data and continuing key data records that are critical for global change science.

For more information about NASAs Fire and Smoke page, visit:

SpaceRef co-founder, Explorers Club Fellow, ex-NASA, Away Teams, Journalist, Space & Astrobiology, Lapsed climber.