NASA says maps of two megafires that struck California recently, created in cooperation with the U.S. Forest Service, could help answer questions about the best way to go about forest recovery efforts.

New data sets gathered by the Forest Service and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, have been combined to create maps so highly detailed that they even show single trees, the space agency says.

The maps of the Rim fire, which consumed around 250,000 acres around and inside Yosemite National Park in 2013, and the King fire close to Lake Tahoe, which burned 97,000 acres in 2014, will aid the Forest Service in its restoration and recovery projects underway in the area, officials say.

The data was gathered from visible light, infrared and lidar instruments being developed for a NASA Hyperspectral Infrared Imager (HyspIRI) satellite mission.

Although that mission is years away from launch, airborne prototypes of the instruments were taken aloft to gather the data on the wildfires.

Officials hope the maps created from that data can answer a number of fundamental questions about forest recovery plans, such as where the surviving live trees in a blackened landscape are to provide seed for regrowing a forest; where the most dangerous dead trees are, which could put crews rebuilding trails and roads at risk; and whether habitats have been created, which fire-dependent wildlife species can take advantage of.

"It's likely there are not going to be any viable seed sources where the fire was that intense," said Carlos Ramirez, program manager of the USFS's Remote Sensing Laboratory in McClellan, California. "With the ... data set, we get an inventory of living vegetation and the condition of it."

The resultant maps will give people tasked with formulating recovery plans a better idea of where best to proceed with their efforts, he believes.

The USFS is cooperating with the University of California, Davis and other organizations to balance the twin goals of clearing out hazardous areas of burned timber while preserving newly created habitats for as many species as possible, Ramirez notes.

"Some of these high-severity burn patches are highly desirable habitats," for certain species, he explained.

The new maps could yield a better understanding of megafires, which burn hotter and spread faster than usual wildfires, scientists say.

"If you're using the standard tools, you can't explain the rapid fire growth," said Janice Coen of the National Center for Atmospheric Research. "The evolution of [these fires] seems to depend very much on winds the fire itself generated as it burned, and those winds in turn depend on the characteristics of the vegetation the fire had for fuel."

Those are exactly the kinds of factors the new maps may help identify, scientists say.

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