Fire Fighting From Outer Space

Satellite could help snuff out forest fires

fire, wilderness, california, berkeley, satellite, governmentResearchers at UC Berkeley have created a satellite that can spot wildfires from outer space.

Named the Fire Urgency Estimator in Geosynchronous Orbit (FUEGO), the Berkeley creation would hover over the Western United States. At this elevation, FUEGO can snap photos of vulnerable areas almost continuously.

For an effective response, the images have to be rapidly analyzed. To that end, Berkeley researchers created software to detect hotspots before they become infernos.

According to wildfire experts, FUEGO could be an important part of fire prevention. “If we had information on the location of fires when they were smaller, then we could take appropriate actions quicker and more easily, including preparing for evacuation,” said fire expert and UC Berkeley associate professor, Scott Stephens.

Currently, Berkeley researchers are applying for patents on the technology. The University hopes to license the system to governments or private entities to help fund the  hundreds of millions of dollars to build and launch the satellite.

Although the satellite seems like a massive investment, FUEGO would likely pay for itself in a single fire season. According to the National Interagency Fire Center, the US has spent between $1-2 billion dollars a year on fire suppression since 2000.

Image Courtesy of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory