Flames. Credit: Leo Lintang

Wild fires threaten the city of Athens

23 August 2009 01:00 UTC

Flames. Credit: Leo Lintang
Flames. Credit: Leo Lintang

Reminiscent of the wildfires in southern Greece in 2007, heavy wildfires raged throughout the Greek regions of Attica and Central Greece for several days from 21 August onward.

Last Updated

24 January 2023

Published on

23 August 2009

By HansPeter Roesli (EUMETSAT)

Meteosat-9's IR3.9 channel captured the situation through a clear sky very well, as shown by the hourly image sequence (22 Aug 00:00 UTC–24 Aug 05:00 UTC) taken during 22-24 August. The particular enhancement used colours the hottest pixels (325K–340K) from red to orange/yellow while applying grey shades to cooler (non-fire) temperatures.

The biggest fire endangered the city of Athens. The outskirts of the town had their most threatening hours during the early morning of 23rd August (see top image below). Note that due to slow recovery from saturation of the IR3.9 detectors the extent of the fire areas might be slightly exaggerated in the westerly direction.

The fires were fanned by strong northerly winds (Etesians/Meltemi) that blew the smoke beyond the isle of Crete (see Figure 2). The image sequence (04:15–16:00 UTC) shows the evolution of the fires and smoke plumes during daylight hours of 22 August. The movie is compiled from 15-minute black-and-white imagery from the HRV channel overlaid with the hottest pixels of the IR3.9 channel in orange colours.

The extent of the damaged areas is illustrated by the burn scars that can be identified on satellite imagery taken at varying spatial resolutions a couple of days later on 27 and 29 August. The following image collection shows the same scene with increasing spatial resolution using the Natural Colours RGB composite and HRV of Meteosat-9/SEVIRI (~6km and ~2km, respectively) to Aqua/MODIS (~500m and ~250m) and to EO-1/ALI (~30m).

On these images the burnt areas are identified either as dark-grey or red patches. This (false) colouring comes from the selection of appropriate channels in the visible and near-infrared spectrum. Arrows on the MODIS qkm image point to burn scars that show off as fire pixels on the hourly IR3.9 animation. The two red arrows single out the damaged areas around Athens.

As expected from the fire signal shown by the IR3.9 images, the scars north-east of Athens cover a particularly vast area. With hindsight, they can even be identified on the relatively coarse resolution Natural Colours RGB composite. Of course, much more detail can be gleaned from the RGB composite of ALI, the Advanced Landsat Imager being tested on the NASA satellite EO-1. The fires cut a swath of destruction into some suburbs, destroying large patches of forest and several groups of houses.


Wild fires threaten the city of Athens
Figure 1: Meteosat-9 Channel 04 (IR3.9), 23 August 2009, 10:00 UTC.
Animation (22 August 00:00 UTC–24 August 05:00 UTC)
Wild fires threaten the city of Athens
Figure 2: Meteosat-9 Channel 12 (HRV) plus Channel 04 (IR3.9) Composite, 23 August 2009, 14:00 UTC
(hottest pixels of the IR3.9 channel overlaid in orange colour). Animation (04:15–16:00 UTC)

Additional content

Aqua MODIS image on 22 Aug 2009 (source: NASA)
Met-9 HRV image sequence on 23 Aug 2009 (05:00–08:00 UTC)
Greece Stricken by Massive Forest Fires (Spiegel Online)