An artist’s concept of the FUEGO satellite, which would snap digital photos of the Western U.S. every few seconds in search of hot spots that could be newly ignited fires. Image by R. E. Lafever, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.
Infrared images of the area around Yosemite National Park on Aug. 17, 2013, before and 10 minutes after ignition of the Rim Fire. The images, taken by the GOES weather satellite, show that fire hotspots can be detected from space. GOES is a powerful, all-purpose satellite, and was not exclusively designed for fire detections, unlike the proposed FUEGO geosynchronous satellite, which could scan areas every few minutes. Images by Chris Schmidt, Univ. of Wisconsin.
Images taken in two different infrared wavelengths reveal different details of a smokey fire, demonstrating that a fire-spotting satellite could see ignition sites obscured by smoke. These images are of a 2003 fire in the San Bernardino National Forest near Los Angeles, taken by the ASTER satellite.
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The idea of a fire detection satellite has been floated before, but until recently, detectors have been prohibitively expensive, and the difficulty of discriminating a small burning area from other bright hotspots, such as sunlight glinting off a mirror or windshield, made the likelihood...