"Such a satellite could view the Western states almost continuously, snapping pictures of the ground every few seconds in search of hot spots that could be newly ignited wildfires," according to a campus news release. "Firefighting resources could then be directed to these spots in hopes of preventing the fires from growing out of control and threatening lives and property."
The scientists have dubbed the project FUEGO, for Fire Urgency Estimator in Geosynchronous Orbit. It's described in an article published Oct. 17 online in the journal Remote Sensing by Associate Professor Scott Stephens, a fire expert, physicist Carl Pennypacker, remote sensing expert Maggi Kelly and other colleagues.
Pennypacker, a research associate at UC Berkeley’s Space Sciences Laboratory and scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, is quoted saying, “With a satellite like this, we will have a good chance of seeing something from orbit before it becomes an Oakland fire." He was referring to the massive 1991 fire that burned more than 3,000 homes in the Berkeley and Oakland hills.
“It could pay for itself in one firefighting season,” he said. The satellite's designers expressed hope that it could be built for several hundred million dollars, a fraction of the $2.5 billion the nation spends each year fighting fires, the campus release said.
"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 of false alarms high," campus science writer Robert Sanders said the news release. "Today, computers are faster, detectors cheaper and more sensitive, and analysis software far more advanced, making false alarms much less likely, according to researchers."
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