Smoke from several fires merges to form a giant plume in this image of Western Australia, near the coastal city of Perth. At least some of the fires in the area (in the towns of Yarloop and Waroona, south of the city) began on Sunday, January 22, 2006, a day before this image was acquired. The cause is still under investigation but arson is strongly suspected. This region is highly susceptible to brush fires, especially in the long, dry summer months. The coastal region is very wide, ranging from 20 to 120 kilometers (12 to 75 miles), gradually giving way to rolling uplands and is fringed by desert and very dry shrublands to the north and east. Fires are primarily ignited through two very different means, one natural and one not. Lightning strikes are the most frequently occurring natural cause, while the clearing of land for agriculture and game is the leading anthropogenic cause; land is cleared of brush and trees in order to increase game populations and to promote the growth of plants for cultivation. According to Conservation International, this 350,000 square kilometer ( 135 square mile) area is a major “hotspot” of biological diversity, containing almost 3,000 species of endemic plants and remnants of once-massive Eucalyptus woodlands.
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