Aftermath of California inferno

Proba image of San Diego county, acquired 5 November 2003
12 November 2003

The destructive power of California wildfires that came to within 40 km of San Diego is graphically shown in this satellite image from ESA's Proba spacecraft.

Fire descended on southern California in October, with more than a dozen separate blazes fanned by the harsh Santa Ana desert winds across mountainous forests and brush land to threaten suburban communities. An estimated 300,000 hectares has been burnt out, and the economic impact is reported to total $2 billion (€1.74 billion).

The Proba image shows the aftermath of the largest single fire, the so-called Cedar Fire that at one point formed a wall of flame 70 km across. But milder weather, rain and snow came to the aid of firefighters as they worked to control the blaze.

Acquired on 5 November, as the worst of the fire was over, the image shows a fire-scarred rural area north of the San Vicente Reservoir (the north tip of the reservoir is towards top right). Santee, an outlying district of San Diego, is visible from bottom right, with Poway towards top left. At the centre of the burnt area is what little remains of the Scyamore Canyon Open Space Preserve.

About Proba

Artist's impression of Proba in orbit
Artist's impression of Proba in orbit

Proba (Project for On Board Autonomy) is an ESA micro-satellite built by an industrial consortium led by the Belgian company Verhaert, launched in October 2001 and operated from ESA's Redu Ground Station (Belgium).

Orbiting 600 km above the Earth’s surface, Proba was designed to be a one-year technology demonstration mission of the Agency but has since had its lifetime extended as an Earth Observation mission. It now routinely provides scientists with detailed environmental images thanks to CHRIS - a Compact High Resolution Imaging Spectrometer developed by UK-based Sira Electro-Optics Ltd - one of the main payloads on the 100 kg spacecraft.

Proba boasts an ‘intelligent’ payload, has the ability to observe the same spot on Earth from a number of different angles and can record images of a 14 km square area to a resolution of 18 m. More than 60 scientific teams across Europe are making use of Proba data. A follow-on mission, Proba-2, is due to be deployed by ESA around 2005.

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