Environment & Science

Valley Fire: NASA releases satellite images of burn area

Computer-enhanced image of the areas burned in the Valley Fire, taken Sunday, Sept. 20, 2015.
Computer-enhanced image of the areas burned in the Valley Fire, taken Sunday, Sept. 20, 2015.
Computer-enhanced image of the areas burned in the Valley Fire, taken Sunday, Sept. 20, 2015.
Business owner Larry Menzio looks at the remnants of his destroyed auto business after the Valley Fire swept through the town of Middletown, California, on September 16, 2015.

Images of the area affected by the Valley Fire from space have been released by NASA. They show the blaze's wide-ranging destruction, leaving 76,067 acres burned.

The images were captured by the Landsat 8 satellite's Operational Land Imager, with the computer-aided imagery helping to show exactly which areas were burned.

Fires of the size of the Valley Fire rarely have a single cause, according to NASA. In the article accompanying the images, they note that aggressive firefighting and a lack of controlled fires to clear out brush had left the large amount of fuel that this fire used to spread. Other factors include California's drought from over the past four years, as well as bark beetles making pine trees more vulnerable, all setting things up for when hot temperatures and gusty winds hit the area.

You can see an image without the color enhancements here:

KPCC staff

10:49 a.m. Hundreds of millions in damage estimated

Future rebuilding efforts after the hundreds of millions of dollars in destruction caused by the Valley Fire burning north of San Francisco will be an opportunity to improve poor, sparsely populated Lake County, California officials said.

"We can and we will make this better. I've seen it time and time again, disaster after disaster," said Mark Ghilarducci, director of the California Governor's Office of Emergency Services.

Building more modern roads and adding sewage systems to areas that don't have them will be included in recovery plans, officials said.

While plans to rebuild are in many people's minds, fire crews are still battling the blaze. On Wednesday, another body was found in the rubble in Lake County, bringing the death toll to six from that blaze and the Butte Fire in Northern California — two of the state's more destructive wildfires in recent memory. 

The Valley Fire in Lake County destroyed more than 1,900 structures, including 1,238 homes, and left 3,000 people homeless, Ghilarducci said. 

Lake County sheriff's officials said they discovered the remains in the hard-hit Cobb area and believe they belong to Robert Taylor Fletcher, 66, who was last seen Sept. 16. His home was destroyed. The coroner has not confirmed the identity.

Officials said Robert Litchman, 61, from the Seigler Canyon area, was still missing. Three other people have been found dead in the rubble of the Lake County blaze.

Butte Fire

Two bodies were found inside homes destroyed in the Butte Fire about 170 miles southeast, in the Sierra Nevada foothills. 

The two fires continue burning, but cooler weather and rain have helped firefighters gain ground, and both are more than 80 percent contained.

Tassajara Fire

Meanwhile, authorities in Monterey County said a man's suicide was involved in the start of the Tassajara Fire that destroyed 12 homes and eight small buildings and prompted evacuations near the small town of Jamesburg, 140 miles south of San Francisco.

Firefighters found the body near the fire's ignition point, the Monterey County Sheriff's Department said.

The sheriff's department declined to release the cause of death or other details on how the fire started Saturday, saying an investigation continues. The man's identity wasn't disclosed.

That fire has burned a little more than a square mile since it started about 30 miles east of the coastal city of Monterey.


This story has been updated.