Widespread wildfires in Portugal and Spain

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Smoke and flames from extensive wildfires in Portugal and Spain in mid-October 2017 could be clearly seen on satellite imagery.

Date & Time
15 October 2017 12:53 UTC–18 October 09:00 UTC
Meteosat-10, Suomi-NPP
Infrared Channel, Natural Colour RGB, Near-Infrared

By HansPeter Roesli (Switzerland), Paul de Valk (KNMI), Aleksandra Tusińska (HSPAF), Jose Prieto (EUMETSAT) and Sancha Lancaster (Pactum)

On the weekend of 14/15 October more than 140 wildfires broke out in central and northern Portugal and Galicia in Spain.

The fires caused widespread devastation and more than 30 people were reported to have died.

Suomi-NPP VIIRS Natural Color RGB and infrared imagery from 15 October (Figure 1) is presented in the slider below. A red mask is added to the Natural Color image where infrared 3.74 µm values are in excess of 330 k, most probably indicating the fire hotspots.

Image comparison
VIIRS Natural Color RGB, 15 Oct 12:53 UTC VIIRS Natural Color RGB with infrared overlaid, 15 Oct 12:53 UTC
Figure 1: Comparison of Suomi-NPP imagery showing the flames from the wildfires.
Figure 2
Figure 2: Animated gif showing fire enhanced imagery, based on Meteosat channels at 3.9 and 10.8 µm, 14 Oct 00:00 UTC–17 Oct 01:00 UTC

An experimental fire enhanced RGB based on Meteosat channels at 3.9 and 10.8 µm (Figure 2) — Red: 3.9-10.8 µm, (-3, 30)K; Green: 3.9 µm, (280, 310)K; Blue: 10.8 µm, (290, 300)K — shows the phase when the fires in Portugal were raging the most, around 00:00 UTC on 16 October. Normal cloud appears in red, as a warning that some fires might hide below the cloud.

In the Meteosat-10 Natural Colour RGB animation from 15 October 13:30–17:30 UTC (Figure 3) the flames can be seen as red areas (pixels) underneath the veil of smoke.

Overnight of 15/16 Ootober the flames could also be seen by Meteosat-10, as is shown on the Natural Colour RGB from 00:00 UTC (Figure 4).

The NIR1.6 (near-infrared) channel on Meteosat-10's SEVIRI is quite sensitive to very hot spots (flares/flames). This can be seen in the strongly-enhanced image sequence, 15 Oct 20:00 UTC–16 Oct 04:00 UTC, which shows that the flames, instead of being gradually extinguished, were disappearing below the cloud tail of ex-Hurricane Ophelia.

Figure 3: Met-10, 15 October, 13:00–17:30 UTC
Natural Colour RGB
Figure 4: Met-10, 16 October, 00:00 UTC
Natural Colour RGB

On 16 October the smoke clouds were so thick and widespread that they were visible on the RGB imagery during the day. Figure 5 shows the smoke as it travelled over the Bay of Biscay and into South West England and Figure 6 shows the smoke over north west France and parts of eastern England.

Figure 5: Met-10, 16 October, 09:00 UTC
Natural Colour RGB
Figure 6: Met-10, 16 October, 12:00 UTC
Natural Colour RGB
Figure 7
Figure 7: Met-10 Natural Colour RGB and infrared, 17 October, 11:45 UTC

By 17 October the large plumes of smoke could seen as far east as the Netherlands. Forecasters at KNMI reported the sun was obscured by the smoke, which could be clearly seen on the Meteosat-10 image from 11:45 UTC on 17 October (Figure 7).

Lidar and pilot information indicated two layers at 5,000 ft and 12,000 ft.

Some aircraft were reported to have returned to their departure points due to this smoke. Safety regulations prescribe a return when there is a a smell of smoke in the cockpit.

By 18 October the smoke could be seen over Poland (Figure 8) and as far as the Black Sea (Figure 9).


Figure 8: Met-10, 18 October, 09:00 UTC
Natural Colour RGB
Figure 9: Met-10, 18 October, 10:00 UTC
Natural Colour RGB and infrared
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