Whitewater-Baldy Fire Complex Hotspot Comparison

The Whitewater and Baldy Fires within the Gila Wilderness of New Mexico exhibited extreme fire behavior during the afternoon of Wednesday May 23, 2012.  The Baldy Fire started on May 9th and the Whitewater Fire on May 16th both due to lightning strikes.  These two fires merged into one large fire complex on the 23rd while growing nearly 50,000 acres in just one afternoon.  The 1km MODIS 3.9micron hotspot imagery comparison between Tuesday, May 22nd and Wednesday, May 23rd showed this significant growth.  Figure 1 is a graphicast issued on the evening of the 23rd using the comparison to show the incredible growth.  Forecasters were able to approximate the size of the fire by comparing the imagery to burn scars from 2011.  The Las Conchas Fire burned nearly 150,000 acres to the west of Los Alamos, becoming the largest wildfire in New Mexico history.  This fire was easily close to half that of the burn scar displayed in the graphicast in Figure 2.  The following morning inciweb.org indicated the fire had grown to near 50,000 acres.  By Thursday afternoon the 24th the fire continued to grow to nearly 70,000 acres.  The Miller Fire burn scar east of the current fire in Figure 2 burned just over 88,000 acres.  This looks very close to the latest 1km MODIS hotspot image.  Given the current long duration critical fire weather event expected through Saturday it will be unprecedented to see the Whitewater-Baldy complex grow to beat the state record set just last year.

Figure 1. Graphicast of MODIS Comparison.

Figure 2. 2011 burn scar comparion to the current Whitewater-Baldy complex as seen from MODIS.

5 thoughts on “Whitewater-Baldy Fire Complex Hotspot Comparison

  1. Great post Brian! Not only did you show good use of the SPoRT data by incorporating it into your Graphicasts/Special Weather Briefings, but your blog post included historical information to put the size of the fires into perspective. Great job!

  2. Yes, execllent post Brian! Good to see the use of the products in weather briefings, as Brian Hoeth commented. I was curious how this area would look in the RGB products and it showed up quite well in the Nighttime Microsphysics product. I made a post above. I was curious why the colors showed up as they did. Is this fire out or now contained or still going? Thanks again for the great post!

  3. We also noticed the hotspot on the RGB imagery. The fire is still 0% contained within very rugged terrain and we expect 65mph winds over the fire Saturday. The pattern will become more favorable for firefighters by Monday. Officials expect the fire to grow up to an additional 20,000 acres Saturday making it more than 100,000 acres.

    • The two fires grew to about 1000 total acres between May 9th and May 23rd. These two fires merged and grew over 40,000 acres on the 23rd as a very windy and dry weather pattern affected the area. The fire then grew another 40,000 acres on the 26th with more strong winds. Over the past 10 days there has been consistent growth so that the fire is now roughly 263,000 acres and 22 percent contained. This fire will burn until significant rains occur during the southwest monsoon season which typically begins to produce wetting rainfall beginning around July 4th weekend.

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