Bush and Forest Fires inCentral African Republic 

18  December 2002

Widely Scattered Fires across Central Africa

This pair of images from December 11, 2002, shows the diurnal (daily cycle) fire patterns in central Africa. The top image was captured by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) sensor on the Terra satellite in the morning, while the bottom image was captured by the MODIS on the Aqua satellite in the afternoon. From left to right, this image spans the countries of Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad, and the Central African Republic. At bottom right, a portion of Democratic Republic of Congo is visible.

As the day progressed, fire activity (indicated by red dots) increased markedly. The increase is due to both human and environmental factors. Many, if not most, of these fires are set by humans for agricultural purposes: clearing farmland, returning nutrients to the soil, regenerating pasture. People become more active over the course of the day, and fire occurrence increases. Fire activity is also influenced by increasing temperatures and decreasing humidity as the morning progresses to afternoon. This increases the potential for planned fires to get out of control or to burn larger areas than intended.

Another interesting difference between the morning and afternoon overpasses is how the relative position of the sun and the satellite during each overpass changes the appearance of the vegetation. Notice that in the Terra overpass, when the light from the sun would have been coming from the southeast, the vegetation at the right of the image appears dark, and the vegetation in the left half of the image appears bright. During the Aqua overpass, the reverse is true: the sun is coming from the southwest, and the vegetation appears bright in the east and dark in the west. This apparent change in surface observations due to change in the relative positions of the sun and the spacecraft is referred to as the bidirectional effect, and scientists must take the effect into consideration when using satellite data to study surface features on Earth.

Image courtesy Jacques Descloitres

Source: NASA – earth observatory

For details see:

Fire is used extensively across RCA. There are three main activities.

  • Large scale poaching: This has its greatest impact in the north and north east of the country. The open savannahs of the Northeast, on the Sudan border, see large fire fronts (50 km) every year, moving southwest as the season progresses. The fires start on the frontier with Sudan in November and move southwest, arriving at Bakouma in February. These are thought to be due to large scale poaching activities. A similar process occurs in the north of the country on the frontier with Chad. Fires of several km’s size advance down towards the Massif des Bongo during November, December, and January. This area is comprised of several national parks. The fires are smaller than those found in the Northwest as the landscape is more fragmented with rivers and woodlands. The Plateau of Ouadda, south of the Massif, sees many large hunting fires later in the season (January to March). This remnant forest area is a home to bush game.

  • Pasture management: Fires are used to stimulate re-growth for cattle in the dry season. This occurs around the town of Bambari (central RCA) and on the routes from Northwest RCA (a livestock breeding area) to the markets in the south. The herdsmen light fires along the route both to stimulate regrowth and to facilitate passage. These fires tend to be at least five km from the road network. The fires are small in size and start in December and continue until March.

  • Agricultural fires: These small fires occur across the country in December and January, but are predominantly close to the road network, being lit to prepare the fields for agriculture. At the same time, farmers burn the area around their crops and villages earlier in the season to avoid accidental fires caused by the passage of pastoralists. The conflict between the two groups, pastoralists and villagers, is a well-known one.

For background information on the fire situation in Central African Republic (CAR): See IFFN country report at:

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