Multi-Spectral Remote Sensing of Brush Fire Scars in Arid Urban Regions: Analysis of Future Fire and Flooding Hazards

A project by
Mike Ramsey
Ramon Arrowsmith
funded by NASA.

The Image Visualization and Infrared Spectroscopy (IVIS) Laboratory at the University of Pittsburgh and the ASU Department of Geological Sciences and Active Tectonics, Quantitative Structural Geology and Geomorphology group

Link to main page at the University of Pittsburgh:

Proposal summary

We propose a multi-frequency, multi-temporal analysis of existing brush fire scars for Phoenix, AZ and other semi-arid urban environments. This analysis will be used to develop a model of flash flooding potential and future fire hazards for these regions. Because of the removal of vegetation due to these fires, subsequent channel and surface flooding increases during intense periods of summer monsoonal thunderstorms. Further, many of these regions are undergoing rapid urbanization and the threat to human lives and property will increase. Because the southwestern United States has the highest urban growth rates in the nation, cities must address a broad range of issues, including water resources, urban growth, and natural hazards such as brush fires and flash flooding. As populations in these regions continue to grow and the urban fringe expands into the vegetated desert, more and more people are at risk from human- and naturally-induced fires. Once burned, these regions then can facilitate and concentrate rapid flood run-off and erosion. Factors that influence these fire scars are the proximity of human activity, short and long term climate variations and vegetation type and abundance.

We intend to utilize currently available multi-spectral, multi-temporal data archive of images to analyze existing fire scars surrounding the Phoenix area. These scars range in age from 3 to 30 years are easily visible on near-infrared, thermal-infrared surface temperature, and SIR-C radar images. The first stage of this study will be to investigate the linkage between the fire scar age, vegetation type and recovery, soil type and local topography. Next we will use this information to model surface response to heavy rainfall and asses the local hazard potential. By utilizing these data together with new field studies, we will concentrate on developing a flood/fire hazard map of the Phoenix region and identify the most efficient means of remote detection. The final stage of the study will be to use these initial results to examine other arid cities in the southwestern United States which have far less remote sensing coverage. This study will serve as a critical facet of the upcoming ASTER global urban monitoring program for which the PI is responsible. This project-approved effort is designed to gather data over the world’s 100 fastest growing and environmentally at-risk cities, most of which are located in semi-arid climates.


BLM Wildfire Information
Fire Reporting Instructions for BLM
Nice images of firefighting in Fountain Hills and probably Rio fire


Schematic of idea of project for LTER presentation
Adobe Illustrator version of above figure
1998 TM band 6 thermal image of the Rio area. Lighter areas are the variously-aged fire scars
4,3,2 composite of 1993 TM data of the one fire scar
Locations of fire scars and study sites in the northwest Scottsdale/Rio Verde area overlain on Landsat image
Adobe Illustrator version of above image by Tamara Misner and Ramon Arrowsmith


Summer 2001 notes on contacts and phenomena
From John McHone:
Fire scars and Landsat images in Austrailia's Lake Dissapointment area
Wildfire studies, Great Victoria Desert from U. Texas


2001 summary
Final Report (summer, 2004)--120 Mb!

REPORT about this project

Earth Observatory Write up on the project


Balloon photography of Brush fire scars east of Carefree, AZ

Photography of spectra sampling sites in area of Cavecreek Fire scar: 12/12/2000

Near IR spectra on the Carefree fire scar

Photography of the area near Anthem in north Phoenix, 6_12_01

Photography including from kite of the Carefree fire scar, 6_13_01

Balloon photography for Carefree Fire Scar, 6_14_01

More balloon photography for Carefree Fire Scar, 6_14_01

Ground photography for Carefree Fire Scar including spectral locations, 6_14_01

Ground (and one balloon) photography for Dynamite Fire Scar, 6_28_01

Balloon and some ground photography for Dynamite Fire Scar, 07_03_01

McDowell Mountain Regional Park Research Permit request

Photographs from fire scar tour, 8/22/01

Photographs from aerial overflight, 7/28/01 (film)

Photographs from aerial overflight, 7/28/01 (digitalcamera)

Topographic surveying of burn edge at Carefree scar

Sediment traps for fire scar study

Photography of the Pinnacle fire and balloon photography, 8/25/01

Photography of the sediment trap installation, 4/18/02

Photography of balloon photography and sediment traps (including U1, U2, B1, B2), 7/14/02

McDowell Mtn Park Sed traps--Balloon Photography 07_14_02

McDowell Mtn Park Sed traps--Field operations 07_30_02 (including Ramsay and Misner and Burnt curvature and sediment sampling)

McDowell Mtn Park Sed traps--Field operations 07_31and8_1_02 (including U3, U4, U5, B3)

McDowell Mtn Park Sed traps--Regolith and curvature: Burnt 08_04_02 (photos only)

McDowell Mtn Park Sed traps--Notes after rainfall event

McDowell Mtn Park Sed traps--Regolith and curvature: Unburnt 08_25_02 (photos only)

Curvature and regolith study

Photography of the sediment traps after heavy rains, 2_14_03

Photography of the sediment traps after when we collected the sediment--2_25_03