Many scores of fires burned across southern Mexico in mid-April, 2013, covering the region with a gray haze. The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer aboard NASA’s Aqua satellite captured this true-color image on April 16, 2013.
Red “hotspots” speckle the entire region, each indicating an area where the thermal sensors detected temperatures higher than background. When combined with typical smoke plumes such areas indicate actively burning fires. Most of the hotspots are found at the edge of dark green areas, suggesting they are burning at the edge of forests, potentially as forest is cleared for agricultural purposes, usually farming or logging.
In southern Mexico, as in many parts of the developing world, tropical forests are under intense pressure from forest clearing. Not only do deliberately set fires consume forest acreage, but such fires can escape control, leading to unintentional destruction of huge swaths of forest as well as directly endanger humans, property and livestock until fires can be quenched.
Smoke is another hazard of fires, and is a prime cause of respiratory illness in humans as well as livestock in heavily burned areas – and can affect health far from the source. On April 16, the U.S. Air Quality “Smog Blog” reported that smoke from southern Mexico fires was over the Gulf of Mexico, and expected to move northward. By April 19, several air quality monitoring stations along the Mexico-Texas border reported Unhealthy (Code Red) PM2.5 concentrations. The high values were correlated from fires burning in southern Mexico and Central America.