Determining where and when wildfires could strike could help save lives and keep precious forestland from burning down. Satellites can help track wildfires and their progression, but they can’t always help determine where a wildfire will spread to or how fast it will go.
New technology called the Firelight Detection Algorithm, or FILDA, can help detect wildfires at night even when the skies are cloudy. FILDA can detect wildfires even when they are very small, which can help firefighters better coordinate their efforts.
Traditional fire detecting methods use Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite, or VIIRS, which measures the heat released by a fire and the infrared radiation released. However, these measurements can often be thrown off by radiation that is emitted by the Earth’s surface and atmospheric interference. This means that fires have to be quite large in order for radiation to be attributed to a wildfire.
FILDA uses the visible light of fire, detecting high resolution images of fires. Using VIIRS technology, images of fires at night can be captured using infrared and visible light information. FILDA can also detect 90% more pixels than previous methods, and can detect smoldering and flaming fires. This allows researchers to see when fires start, when they may be dormant, or what weather events contribute to the spread of the fire.
FILDA was able to detect a fire 11 hours after it ignited, which is a day before traditional methods are usually able to detect fires. This gives fire departments the ability to mobilize their forces quicker than ever, in addition to putting them in the right places to fight the fire more effectively.
The technology behind FILDA can be used for a variety of other applications. Using visible light to detect changes on the Earth’s surface can help detect wildfires before they get out of control, but it can also retroactively be used to study how wildfires in the past spread.
Finding Fires Before They Rage. (2017, April 7). Earth Observation, NASA.