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Every evening from late spring to early fall, two planes lift off from airports in the western United States and fly through the sunset, each headed for an active wildfire, and then another, and another. From 10,000 feet above ground, the pilots can spot the glow of a fire, and occasionally the smoke enters the cabin, burning the eyes and throat.
The pilots fly a straight line over the flames, then U-turn and fly back in an adjacent but overlapping path, like they're mowing a lawn. When fire activity is at its peak, it's not uncommon for the crew to map 30 fires in one night. The resulting aerial view of the country's most dangerous wildfires helps establish the edges of those fires and identify areas thick with flames, scattered fires and isolated hotspots.
Constellation - Satellites - NASA - National - Oceanic
A large global constellation of satellites, operated by NASA and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), combined with a small fleet of planes operated by the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) help detect and map the extent, spread and impact of forest fires. As technology has advanced, so has the value of remote sensing, the science of scanning the Earth from a distance using satellites and high-flying airplanes.
The most immediate, life-or-death decisions in fighting forest fires—sending smokejumpers to a ridge, for example, or calling an evacuation order when flames leap a river—are made by firefighters and chiefs in command centers and on the fire line. Data from satellites and aircraft provide situational awareness with a strategic, big-picture view.
Satellites - Decisions - Assets - Country - Brad
"We use the satellites to inform decisions on where to stage assets across the country," said Brad Quayle of the Forest Service's Geospatial Technology and Applications Center, which plays a key role in providing remote-sensing data for active wildfire suppression. "When there's high competition for firefighters, tankers and aircraft, decisions have to...
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