Fighting Wildfire with Satellites, Lasers and Drones

How technology is improving the ability to spot out wildfires - the challenge: getting that "information into the hands of the firefighters."

From the Source: 

"Fire lookout technology has changed a lot since Jack Kerouac’s Desolation Angels. The book was taken almost entirely from a diary Kerouac kept when he was fire lookout for 63 days on Desolation Peak in Washington. Now, satellite images, fuel analysis, and, soon, the use of drones, are among the high-tech methods for protecting wilderness and civilization from wildfires.

Some of the more important real-time fire data comes from MODIS, a sensor on two NASA satellites that view the entire Earth’s surface every one to two days. The sensors show heat sources (that’s how a fire was first spotted in Noatak, Alaska by a fire manager looking at the data in the early 2000s). It was the first time a fire had been detected by satellite before humans noticed it, says Sean Triplett, the group leader for geo-spatial and information management at the U.S. Forest Service.

'Alaska is huge,' Triplett says. 'It’s a long flight from one side of the state to the other. MODIS was really able to allow us to cover the whole state really quickly, since it sees a larger area.'

After a fire, the U.S. Geological Survey’s LANDSAT satellite can be used to determine the severity of the burn by comparing a pre-fire photo of an area to a post-fire one. The differences in brightness allow scientists to determine the normalized burn ratio, as well as to reflect the changes on the ground."

  Above: Credit - David McNew/Getty

Above: Credit - David McNew/Getty