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Astronauts Capture Haunting Pictures Of California Wildfires

Alexander Gerst / ESA

A disaster in California is making headlines around the planet, and even capturing attention in outer space.

Dozens of fires are still burning across the state, including the Mendocino Complex fire, now officially the largest in the state's history.

As it continues to scorch more than 300,000 square miles, drought and record heat waves only make the situation worse.

California wildfires
Satellite photos show the fires from July 29 - some have continued to grow since then.NASA / Goddard Space Flight Center ESDIS

As firefighters battle the blaze on the ground, a special eye in the sky is looking out for them.

NASA uses state-of-the-art satellites to track disasters like the wildfires in real time, and shares what they see from the sky with emergency workers.

This information is important for planning the huge regional evacuations that rescue residents from the path of the flames.

California Wildfire
The Ranch fire, seen above, is actually one of the smaller fires.NASA / Operational Land Imager

More than 1,000 homes have already been destroyed, and the spreading fires threaten even more each day.

What's worse, seven people have already died from the Carr fire in Shasta County, and two are dead from another fire near the Yosemite National Park.

Tens of thousands of displaced people are eagerly following the situation, hoping they'll have homes to return to.

Even 250 miles up in the sky, in the International Space Station, astronauts are following the disaster by the massive plumes of smoke it sends up.

These photos from European Space Agency astronaut Alexander Gerst give you a sense what it must be like breathing in the nearby Sacramento Valley.

California Wildfires
Smoke billows east from the wildfires.Alexander Gerst - ESA

Gerst, who once worked as a volunteer firefighter, shared his images with a message of support for emergency workers.

California Wildfires
Gerst captured fires in the Bay Area, where the worst blazes send up huge plumes of smoke.Alexander Gerst - ESA

"California burning. These fires are frightening to watch, even from space," he wrote. "Here's a shout-out from space to all firefighters on this planet, my former colleagues. Stay safe, my friends!"

American astronaut Ricky Arnold shared his own view of the fires on Twitter.

California Wildfires
Smoke drifts east (top of the frame) in this photo.Ricky Arnold - NASA

"Plumes of billowing smoke from the #CaliforniaWildfires stretch eastwards [toward] the Rocky Mountains," he said.

And Russian cosmonaut Oleg Artemyev was moved by the devastating pictures he shot from the space station.

"Captured images of the largest #wildfires in #California history," he wrote. "It is truly heart-rending to witness."

Thank you to the brave firefighters and rescue workers saving lives in California!

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