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Fires and Smoke in the Dominican Republic and Haiti
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Fires and Smoke in the Dominican Republic and Haiti

April 18, 2013
Smoke pours from fires burning in the Dominican Republic in this Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) image, taken on March 18, 2005, by NASA’s Aqua satellite. MODIS detected several fires, which have been marked with red squares, but the most intense are burning in the center of the island. The majority of the fires set on the island are probably agricultural fires, set to prepare land for planting. The largest fires, however, are uncontrolled forest fires burning in the Cordillera Central, the mountains that arc across the center of the island of Hispaniola. MODIS first detected the fires on March 14, and four days later, they had grown into a large blaze. The fires started in the Joséel Carmen Ariza National Park, on the lower reaches of Pico Duarte, the highest mountain in the Dominican Republic. The flames raced up the mountain, consuming the pine, palm, and broadleaf rainforests that grow at higher elevations. Local news reports say that more than 700 people have gathered to fight the flames, and the government is requesting firefighting airplanes from the United States. The highest elevations of Pico Duarte where the fires are burning are covered with rare mountain cloud forests, rainforests that draw water from the clouds. Because the forests can take water directly from the sky, they play an important role in providing water to the Dominican Republic, particularly during the dry season, which runs from December to May. The headwaters of 17 of the country’s rivers can be found in the Cordillera Central. These rivers are used for drinking water, irrigation, and to produce energy. March is typically the driest month in the Dominican Republic, but an exceptionally dry winter may have increased the fire hazard. The dry season usually runs from December to May for most of the island, but the first three months of 2005 were even drier than normal. Long term drought has plagued the island, and this extended period of dryness may have left trees and plants even more prone to large, smoky fires, such as those seen here. Officials don’t know how these fires started, but dry weather probably contributed to their severity. Credit: Jacques Descloitres, MODIS Rapid Response Team, NASA/GSFC