NCC Imagery, Colorado Fires In July

In early-to-mid July there were several fires that started in Colorado. The fires were either lightning or human caused. Three fires to note were the Beaver Creek Fire (northern Jackson County, CO), Cold Springs, Fire (western Boulder County, CO) and the Hayden Pass Fire (western Fremont County, CO). They were all active approximately around the same time-frame, between 9-12 July 2016. These fires were also seen together via satellite imagery during the night-time. The Near-Constant Contrast (NCC) satellite product has the ability to monitor wildfires and other atmospheric features during the night-time. In Figure 1 below, a NCC image shows all fires, denoted by the white circles and the adjacent city lights along the Colorado Front Range shown by the arrows, on 12 July 2016.


Figure 1: A NCC image of the wildfires occurring in Northern and Central Colorado at 0838Z on 12 July 2016. In the t0p-right portion of the image one can see the approximate phase of the moon on 12 July 2016, which at this moment in time was the first-quarter stage of the lunar cycle. It is important to note the night-time satellite imagery is dependent on the phase of the lunar cycle, that is, the satellite imagery can be better seen during the full-moon stage of the lunar cycle, and less seen during the new moon stage of the lunar cycle.

An animation link below highlights the evolution of the fires between 9-12 July 2016.

If one looks closely at the animation, the city lights appear to be seen in slightly different locations. The city lights move ever-so slightly from one day to the next. This is due to fact that the satellite imagery is not ‘terrain corrected’ in the data processing. In short, the imagery needs to be processed in a way to incorporate the altitude of where the cities are located. Once this processing is applied, the city lights would not appear jaded anymore, staying in the same location.

For further reference, here is the status of each of the fires described above, as of 22 July 2016.

Beaver Creek Fire: 25,491 acres burned, still active, 5% contained as of 22 July 2016.

Cold Springs Fire: 528 acres burned, no longer active, 100% contained as of 14 July 2016.

Hayden Pass Fire: 16,489 acres burned, still active, 55% contained as of 22 July 2016.

Source: ‘’

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19 June 2016-Present: Beaver Creek Fire, Jackson County, Colorado

The Beaver Creek Fire started in northwestern Jackson County in Northern Colorado on 19 June 2016 (Figure 1) and presently is still an active fire. The cause of the fire is still unknown. As of 7 July 2016 the fire has burned approximately 13,642 acres and 5% of the fire perimeter is contained ( For National Weather Service (NWS) forecasters to monitor fires such as the Beaver Creek Fire not only during the daytime but during the night-time, Near-Constant Contrast (NCC) imagery can be utilized.


Figure 1: An NCC image on 19 June 2016 @ 0911Z, highlighting the location of Jackson County in Northern Colorado. This day was when the fire first initiated. In the right-hand corner of the image, is the corresponding moon phase, showing the fire first started near the full moon stage of the lunar cycle.

In the link below, an animation of the fire spread can be seen in Jackson County with intermittent white circles highlighting the location of the fire. The utility of NCC imagery is evident as NWS forecasters have the ability to monitor erratic fire spread during the night-time hours (e.g., Figure 2), bringing additional satellite imagery that is beneficial for NWS fire weather operations.

Further NCC images of the Beaver Creek Fire will be collected as the present Beaver Creek fire spread evolves.


Figure 2: The magnitude of fire spread denoted by the white circle from a NCC image taken on 28 June 2016 @ 0943Z.

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