Western Canada is getting absolutely hammered by wildfires right now. At the moment, there are at least 182 reported wildfires burning in British Columbia, as these shocking satellite images make painfully clear.

The scourge of wildfires, prompted by hot and dry conditions, have forced thousands of residents from their homes and caused at least one death. Since April 1, there have been almost 900 wildfires across British Columbia.

BC’s wildfire situation as of July 8, 2015. The fire symbol represents fires of note, red represents active fires, and yellow are new fires less than 24 hours old. (BC Wildfire Service)

Smoke has been wafting around the province’s south coast, triggering air quality advisories across southern Vancouver Island, along the mainland coast, metro Vancouver, and the Fraser Valley. The northwestern United States has likewise been stricken by the plumes, which are drifting southward and eastward.


Here’s what NASA’s Earth Observatory has to say about the pair of new satellite images, which were taken on July 5 and 6.

In the images, the principal source of the smoke appears to be fires burning 100 to 150 kilometers north of the city of Vancouver and roughly 50 to 70 kilometers north and west of Pemberton and the ski resort area of Whistler. The Elaho Valley fire was sparked by lightning in mid-June 2015, and stayed relatively small and contained until it started growing vigorously on July 4. By the morning of July 7, the fire and its scar covered about 20,000 hectares (50,000 acres), and the blaze was uncontrolled on all fronts. Fire managers reported crown fires—blazes high in the forest canopy that can leap across areas quickly when fanned by winds. Thick smoke and gusty winds prevented airborne firefighting flights on July 6, according to news reports.

To the northeast of the Elaho fire, the Boulder Creek Wildfire Complex also exploded, growing tenfold in a day. Firefighters estimate that the blaze spans at least 5,500 hectares (13,500 acres); it is not contained on any front. To the east (not in the image), the Cougar Creek fire has claimed 5,000 hectares (12,000 acres).


The lightning-sparked wildfires are being fueled by abnormally hot and dry conditions, making it the most severe fire season in recent memory.

[ NASA Earth Observatory ]

Contact the author at george@io9.com and @dvorsky. Images by Jeff Schmaltz, LANCE/EOSDIS Rapid Response.