NOAA/NASA’s Suomi NPP satellite captured this image of the hundreds of fires burning across large swaths of land in both Myanmar and Cambodia on Feb. 18, 2020. There are many reasons that fires start including weather related ones such as lightning which will ignite dry trees and grasses. But in this instance the most likely reason for the fires is agricultural in nature. At this time of year farmers in southeast Asia light their fields on fire in order to clear them of detritus for the next growing season.
According to Adam Voiland of NASA’s Earth Observatory in an article from March 1, 2018, “People light fires in Southeast Asia for several reasons. In some forested areas, small-scale subsistence farmers practice swidden agriculture (also called slash-and-burn). The technique involves cutting down trees and shrubs, letting the wood dry out for a few months, and then burning it to clear fields. Hunters sometimes start fires to drive reclusive animals into view. Likewise, people collecting mushrooms sometimes burn the forest floor to make it easier to forage. Loggers use fire to clear roads and to clear the land after harvesting the most desirable species. In non-forested areas, farmers set fires to dispose of plant debris after harvesting rice, wheat, and other crops. Discarded cigarettes, sparks from vehicles, and problems with electrical systems also spark fires.”