Planted forests in South Africa have been affected by an increasing number of economically damaging fires over the past four decades. They constitute a major threat to the forestry industry and account for over 80% of the country’s commercial timber losses. Forest fires are more frequent and severe during the drier drought conditions that are typical in South Africa. For proper forest management, accurate detection and mapping of burned areas are required, yet the exercise is difficult to perform in the field because of time and expense. Now that ready-to-use satellite data are freely accessible in the cloud-based Google Earth Engine (GEE), in this study, we exploit the Sentinel-2-derived differenced normalized burned ratio (dNBR) to characterize burn severity areas, and also track carbon monoxide (CO) plumes using Sentinel-5 following a wildfire that broke over the southeastern coast of the Western Cape province in late October 2018. The results showed that 37.4% of the area was severely burned, and much of it occurred in forested land in the studied area. This was followed by 24.7% of the area that was burned at a moderate-high level. About 15.9% had moderate-low burned severity, whereas 21.9% was slightly burned. Random forests classifier was adopted to separate burned class from unburned and achieved an overall accuracy of over 97%. The most important variables in the classification included texture, NBR, and the NIR bands. The CO signal sharply increased during fire outbreaks and marked the intensity of black carbon over the affected area. Our study contributes to the understanding of forest fire in the dynamics over the Southern Cape forestry landscape. Furthermore, it also demonstrates the usefulness of Sentinel-5 for monitoring CO. Taken together, the Sentinel satellites and GEE offer an effective tool for mapping fires, even in data-poor countries.
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