Fires in brushland or scrubland. Credit: georgeburba

Wildfires in Portugal and Spain - 2003-2017

3 August 2003 00:00 UTC-17 October 2017 01:00 UTC

Fires in brushland or scrubland. Credit: georgeburba
Fires in brushland or scrubland. Credit: georgeburba

A collection of cases looking at wildfires in Spain and Portugal, from 2003-2017.

Last Updated

21 March 2023

Published on

13 February 2023



14-15 Oct, Central & northern Portugal & Galicia, Spain
By Paul de Valk (KNMI), Sancha Lancaster, Jose Prieto, HansPeter Roesli, Aleksandra Tusińska (HSPAF)

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 3.74µm values are in excess of 330k, most probably indicating the fire hotspots.

Image comparison

VIIRS Natural Color RGB with infrared overlaid, 15 Oct 12:53 UTC compare1

Figure 1: Comparison of Suomi-NPP imagery showing the flames from the wildfires

 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
Figure 2: Fire enhanced imagery, based on Meteosat channels at 3.9 and 10.8µm, 14 October 2017 00:00 UTC–17 October 01:00 UTC

An experimental fire enhanced RGB based on Meteosat channels at 3.9 and 10.8µm (Figure 2) — Red: 3.9-10.8µm, (-3, 30)K; Green: 3.9µm, (280, 310)K; Blue: 10.8µm, (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 October 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 October 20:00 UTC–16 October 04:00 UTC, which shows that the flames, instead of being gradually extinguished, were disappearing below the cloud tail of ex-Hurricane Ophelia.

 Met-10, 15 October, 13:00–17:30 UTC
Figure 3: Meteosat-10 Natural Colour RGB, 15 October 2017 13:00–17:30 UTC
 Met-10, 16 October, 00:00 UTC
Figure 4: Meteosat-10 Natural Colour RGB, 16 October 2017 00:00 UTC

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.

 Met-10, 16 October, 09:00 UTC
Figure 5: Meteosat-10 Natural Colour RGB, 16 October 2017 09:00 UTC
 Met-10, 16 October, 12:00 UTC
Figure 6: Meteosat-10 Natural Colour RGB, 16 October 2017 12:00 UTC
  Met-10 Natural Colour RGB and infrared, 17 October, 11:45 UTC
Figure 7: Meteosat-10 Natural Colour RGB and infrared, 17 October 2017 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 5,000ft and 12,000ft.

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).

 Met-10, 18 October, 09:00 UTC
Figure 8: Meteosat-10 Natural Colour RGB, 18 October 2017 09:00 UTC
 Met-10, 18 October, 10:00 UTC
Figure 9: Meteosat-10 Natural Colour RGB and infrared, 18 October 2017 10:00 UTC

Additional content

Smoke from Fires on Mainland Portugal (NASA)
Apocalypse wow: dust from Sahara and fires in Portugal turn UK sky red (The Guardian)



30 Aug, Marbella
By Jose Maria Lauhle-Ollero (AEMET) and Jose Prieto

On the afternoon of 30 August a fire started near Marbella in southern Spain, which lasted 30 hours, killing one person.

After a dry phase of weak winds from the mountains north of Marbella the wind veered towards the east, which caused a temperature drop and an increase in humidity (see time series of Malaga station, source: AEMET) and promoted fast propagation of further fires towards the west (10km in two hours), with ashes from a pyrocumulus cloud 30km in advance of the fire front. The peak of the fire intensity was midnight between 30/31 August, the images below show the event evolution on Meteosat-9 channel 04 (IR3.9).

The imagery at IR3.9 provides the best alarm of fires on the land surface, based on a single MSG SEVIRI channel. The signal responds to the temperature of warm ashes and CO2 above the burning surface. However, the fire details in the image are obscured by sensor artifacts, such as recovery time after reaching saturation at brightness temperature of 336K. This affects the sensing of a few pixels west of the saturating pixel (so-called blinding effect). Another artifact is the presence of ring shapes around the location of the strongest fires, involving adjacent lines, which is due to signal deconvolution (ringing), see Fires raging in Galicia on 7 August 2006).

Large fires in Marbella
Figure 10: Meteosat-9 IR3.9, 31 August 2012 23:30 UTC. Time sequence of IR3.9 images



22 July, Catalonia, Spain
By Jose Prieto

On 22 July 2012 two fires in Alt Empordà, Catalonia, Spain started in la Jonquera and in Portbou that affected the Girona Province for three days. The first started during midday; it has affected 13,800 hectares (included in this are some 3,000 hectares of crops that have not burned) 19 municipalities and caused two deaths. The fire of Portbou, moreover, began at 19:00 and was controlled in a few hours, burning 50 hectares and killing two people trying to flee the encroaching flames by jumping from the cliffs into the sea. In total, 3,200 residents were left without electricity and 1,700 without phone

The referenced media source is missing and needs to be re-embedded.
Figure 11: Meteosat-11 HRV


17-18 June, Valencia, Spain
By HansPeter Roesli

In June 2012, forest fires in eastern Spain destroyed more than 45,000 hectares in the province of Valencia.

The fires were some of the biggest in recent years and were exacerbated by weather conditions of high temperatures, little moisture and lots of wind.

The are shown as seen as red hotspots, with smoke plumes visible later in the animation.

Figure 12: Metop, 17 June 17:11 UTC-18 June 04:32 UTC

Additional content

Spain forest fire displaces 700 (GFMC)



21 Aug, Portugal
By Gordon Bridge, Marc Jenner and HansPeter Roesli

The false colour RGB composite Meteosat-8 image shown below clearly pinpoints the many severe forest fires raging in several parts of Portugal on 21 August 2005. In this composite image, red is assigned to the IR3.9 channel, which is particularly useful for the detection of fires and hot-spots. Channel 1 (VIS 0.6) is assigned a green colour and Channel 12 (HRV) blue. The HRV channel highlights a smoke plume heading out into the Atlantic, driven by a generally northeasterly wind in this region. The variability over time of the fires is clearly seen in the IR3.9 movie loop.

Met-8, 21 August 2005, 17:00 UTC
Figure 13: Meteosat-8 RGB Composite IR3.9, VIS0.6, HRV, 21 August 2005, 17:00 UTC
Envisat, MERIS, 21 August 2005
Figure 14: Envisat, MERIS, 21 August 2005. Source: ESA

Additional content

Channel 04 (IR3.9) Animation (21 Aug 18:00 UTC–22 Aug 08:00 UTC)
Channel 12 (HRV) image (21 Aug 2005, 16:15 UTC)
RGB Composite using HRV and IR3.9 channels (21 Aug 2005, 16:15 UTC)
Channel 12 (HRV) image (22 Aug 2005, 08:15 UTC)
RGB Composite using HRV and IR3.9 channels (22 Aug 2005, 08:15 UTC)


16 July, Guadalajara Province, Spain
By Alexander Jacob, Jochen Kerkmann and Jose Prieto

During July 2005 a massive fire destroyed vast tracts of pine forest in the Guadalajara Province (central Spain). The fire began on 16 July, when a barbecue in a pine forest went out of control. The fire was then spread by strong winds across a very dry landscape. Sadly, 11 volunteer firefighters died tackling the blaze which, at its height, threatened to engulf the nearby villages of Selas and Ablanque. Firefighters succeeded in creating a fire-break to stop its spread, backed up by water-bombing aircraft.

The Meteosat-8 images below show the situation on 16 July at 17:00 UTC, a few hours after the outbreak of the fire. The fires (hot spots) can be seen in the IR3.9 image as red spots (Figure 15). A special enhancement has been used to identify the hottest pixels within the image.

The animated gif (Figure 16 shows that the fire started at around 13:00 UTC. The animation also shows the presence of several smaller fires in Spain. The HRV image (Figure 17) shows the spectacular smoke plume from the fire, which crosses northern Spain and reaches the Mediterranean Sea.

Finally, the fires and the smoke can also be detected in the two RGB composites (Figure 18 and 19). They also show convective storms over the Atlas Mountains in northern Africa and thin dust over the western Mediterranean Sea.

Met-8, 16 July 2005, 17:00 UTC
Figure 15: Meteosat-8 Channel 04 (IR3.9), 16 July 2005 17:00 UTC
Catastrophic fire in Spain
Figure 16: Meteosat-8 Channel 04 (IR3.9) animated gif, 16 July 2005 12:00–18:00 UTC
Met-8, 16 July 2005, 17:00 UTC
Figure 17: Meteosat-8 Channel 12 (HRV), 16 July 2005 17:00 UTC. Animation (13:00–18:00 UTC)
Animation (12:00-20:45 UTC)
Met-8, 16 July 2005, 17:00 UTC
Figure 18: Meteosat-8 RGB Composite NIR1.6, VIS0.8, VIS0.6, 16 July 2005 17:00 UTC. Close-up look
Met-8, 16 July 2005, 17:00 UTC
Figure 19: Meteosat-8 RGB Composite IR3.9, NIR1.6, VIS0.6, 16 July 2005 17:00 UTC. Close-up look



3 Aug, Portugal, Spain

In the beginning of August 2003, in conjunction with the heatwave over Western and Central Europe, Portugal was hit by the most devastating forest fire in a century.

About one-third of Portugal is covered by forest and each year thousands of trees are lost to flames during the hot, dry summer. There have been some 1,700 forest fires in the country so far in 2003, destroying more than 26,000 hectares (64,000 acres) of brush and trees, according to forest service figures.

During the summer thousands of firemen were battling for weeks to keep the fires under control. More than 10 people died and more than 50,000 hectares of forest burned. Spain was also affected, although to a lesser extent, by several forest fires. MSG, with its channels in the visible and near infrared range, provided near-real time information about the location of the fires and the extent of the smoke plumes.

Met-8 Channel 04 (IR3.9), 3 August 2003, 12:00 UTC
Figure 20: Meteosat-8 Channel 04 (IR3.9), 3 August 2003 12:00 UTC
Met-8 Channel 12 (HRV), 3 August 2003, 12:00 UTC
Figure 21: Meteosat-8 Channel 12 (HRV), 3 August 2003 12:00 UTC
Met-8 RGB Composite NIR1.6, VIS0.8, VIS0.6, 3 August 2003, 12:00 UTC
Figure 22: Meteosat-8 RGB Composite NIR1.6, VIS0.8, VIS0.6, 3 August 2003 12:00 UTC
Met-8 RGB Composite IR3.9r, NIR1.6, VIS0.6, 3 August 2003, 12:00 UTC
Figure 23: Meteosat-8 RGB Composite IR3.9r, NIR1.6, VIS0.6, 3 August 2003 12:00 UTC