The Horseshoe 2 fire, located along the southeastern flank of the Chiricahua Mountains in southeastern Arizona, began on May 8, 2011, at approximately 11:00 a.m. The fire is thought to have been started by human activities. This astronaut photograph illustrates the area (approximately 8,900 hectares, or 22,110 acres) and position of the fire within the mountains on May 15, 2011, as well as an extensive smoke plume extending to the east-northeast over a distance of at least 60 kilometers (approximately 40 miles). As of May 19, 2011, the fire had burned an area of nearly 14,000 hectares (approximately 34,400 acres) of grasses, shrubs, and trees along the mountain slopes.
The Chiricahua Mountains are included within the Chiricahua National Monument located near the borders of Arizona, New Mexico, and Chihuahua, Mexico. Elevations in the mountains range from approximately 900 to 3,270 meters (3,000 to 10,720 feet) above sea level. The higher elevations—known regionally as “sky islands”—allow for biologically diverse plant and animal communities, adapted to cooler and wetter conditions, to survive while surrounded by semi-arid to arid desert conditions at lower elevations.
The image highlights this contrast in environments; pine and oak forest contributes to the dark coloration of the upper slopes and peaks of the Chiricahuas at image center, while the flat, gray to tan surface of Willcox Playa (an interior-draining basin or dry lake) to the northwest is indicative of the adjacent desert environment.