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Scientists Propose Satellite Early Warning System For Forest Fires

timothy posted about 10 months ago | from the wickerman-division dept.

Communications 91

Hugh Pickens DOT Com writes "As firefighters emerge from another record wildfire season in the Western United States, Robert Sanders reports at the UC Berkeley News Center that scientists have designed a satellite using state-of-the-art sensors, that could view the Western US almost continuously, snapping pictures of the ground every few seconds searching for small hot spots (12 m2) that could be newly ignited wildfires. 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. "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," says fire expert Scott Stephens. Fire detection today is much like it was 200 years ago, relying primarily on spotters in fire towers or on the ground and on reports from members of the public. This information is augmented by aerial reconnaissance and lightning detectors that steer firefighters to ground strikes, which are one of the most common wildfire sparks. But satellite technology, remote sensing and computing have advanced to the stage where it's now possible to orbit a geostationary satellite that can reliably distinguish small, but spreading, wildfires with few false alarms. Carl Pennypacker estimates that the satellite, which could be built and operated by the federal government, would cost several hundred million dollars – a fraction of the nation's $2.5 billion yearly firefighting budget. "With a satellite like this, we will have a good chance of seeing something from orbit before it becomes an Oakland fire," says Pennypacker. "It could pay for itself in one firefighting season.""

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Manned! (4, Funny)

mbstone (457308) | about 10 months ago | (#45447505)

Instead of an automatic system there should be a space capsule with a human park ranger spotter inside.

In the off-season it should be left vacant so anybody can come and live there for free.

Re:Manned! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45447559)

Fuck you (in the off-season of course)

Re:Manned! (1)

nospam007 (722110) | about 10 months ago | (#45447583)

"Instead of an automatic system there should be a space capsule with a human park ranger spotter inside."

Human? Didn't you mean Ursine?

Re:Manned! (2)

glavenoid (636808) | about 9 months ago | (#45448221)

Or we could combine it with the proposed early-warning asteroid-collision alert system and direct the asteroids to extinguish the forest fires. Solve two problems at once!

That's cool (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45447509)

Don't forget, though, that large wildfires only happen because there aren't enough small ones.

That is, if an area burns out, there's no fuel left for another fire, at least for a while, and the ashes and room are good for growth. If you consistently put out all the fires, you end up with forests full of fuel waiting for a gigantic fire to happen.

So merely spotting and putting out isn't good enough. The forest needs to burn now and then, too.

Re:That's cool (2)

Joce640k (829181) | about 10 months ago | (#45447635)

Or we can have pretty forests with firebreaks.

We actually have that capability in the 21st century. It's true.

Re:That's cool (3, Informative)

TapeCutter (624760) | about 10 months ago | (#45447755)

The black Saturday fires in Victoria had a 15km high plume that created it's own weather and wind, it was igniting spot fires 20km ahead of the front. There is no simple fix, it's about risk management.

Re:That's cool (1)

Joce640k (829181) | about 10 months ago | (#45447851)

Sure, once it got going.

The idea behind this is to get there a bit earlier and stop it before it has a chance to get that big.

Re:That's cool (1)

icebike (68054) | about 9 months ago | (#45450685)

The point TapeCutter was trying to make is that fires grow from a barely detectable (10 feet on a side, per the article) to a couple acres in size in minutes, and once you get a stand of trees with a running crown fire it will spit fire across huge firebreaks. This will happen much faster than you can dispatch smoke jumpers or even organize a water drop.

He was not discounting the satellite solution, he was pointing out that Firebreaks would be ineffective.

Firebreaks aren't the answer and probably do as much damage to the forest as the fire itself, because you need them everywhere.

Re:That's cool (1)

slick7 (1703596) | about 10 months ago | (#45447801)

Or we can have pretty forests with firebreaks.

We actually have that capability in the 21st century. It's true.

Or we could put those pesky drones to better use with real time surveilance and find the root cause of the fires...NAH.

Re:That's cool (2)

ShanghaiBill (739463) | about 9 months ago | (#45448743)

Or we could put those pesky drones to better use with real time surveilance and find the root cause of the fires...NAH.

In the USA, most fires are started by human activity. But most BIG fires are started by lightning in remote areas. Fires started by humans are usually quickly reported and extinguished. Fires started by lightning can get too big to control before they are even detected. This satellite system would mostly help with the remote fires started by lightning.

Re:That's cool (3, Informative)

Macgrrl (762836) | about 9 months ago | (#45450751)

Assumption #1; fires started by lightning would presumably have some form of cloud cover (lightning point of origin), would this obscure the view of a 10mx10m fire until after it has become large enough to be dangerous?

Is it common to have lightning without clouds? I'm trying to think if I recall ever seeing lightning out of a clear sky.

I live in Victoria (Australia) and remember the Ash Wednesday bushfires from a first hand - sitting on the beach watching it come down the hill because we were cut off before the evacuation call went out - point of view. As such, I have an interest in anything that gives an early warning.

Re:That's cool (1)

slick7 (1703596) | about 9 months ago | (#45450883)

Infra-red>cloud cover

Re:That's cool (1)

wagnerrp (1305589) | about 10 months ago | (#45451467)

Can you actually get 10' resolution (they said 12 square meters, so 3.3m x 3.3m) in the infrared band from geosynchronous orbit, or is that just the minimum area of forest that must be burning to get a visible temperature spike?

Re:That's cool (1)

slick7 (1703596) | about 10 months ago | (#45458635)

Why geo? Drones are lot closer. Besides, spy satellites are leo.

Re:That's cool (1)

wagnerrp (1305589) | about 10 months ago | (#45460397)

Why geo? Drones are lot closer. Besides, spy satellites are leo.

Because the summary....

But satellite technology, remote sensing and computing have advanced to the stage where it's now possible to orbit a geostationary satellite that can reliably distinguish small, but spreading, wildfires with few false alarms.

Re:That's cool (1)

slick7 (1703596) | about 9 months ago | (#45450873)

What about terrererists?

Re:That's cool (1)

tlhIngan (30335) | about 10 months ago | (#45455183)

In the USA, most fires are started by human activity. But most BIG fires are started by lightning in remote areas. Fires started by humans are usually quickly reported and extinguished. Fires started by lightning can get too big to control before they are even detected. This satellite system would mostly help with the remote fires started by lightning.

Some big fires are started by humans too.

The interesting thing is, even with stuff like campfire bans, humans still cause the majority of forest fires - not usually due to illegal campfires, but because of cigarette butts. Drivers routinely toss the butts out the window where it lands in the grass and smoulders. Most of the time, the fire gets noticed and the fire brigade puts it out, but sometimes it takes a little while to be noticed and in that time they can grow fairly large.

Some urban forests during periods of dry weather ban campfires AND smoking for that very reason - smokers seem to fail to use ashtrays even when provided - preferring to toss the butt on the ground.

(Off topic - an interesting experiment is taking place in Vancouver, BC, where a recycling company has put up 110 cigarette butt recycling bins on practically every vertical pole downtown. The goal is to recycle them, but so far, butts on the ground are still fairly common).

Re:That's cool (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45449323)

actually ... it's been done with Global Hawk, but takes secdef approval. Flying it constantly would be "not cheap" ... about $20K/hour, but it might turn out cheaper than designing and launching a satellite.

images http://www.1af.acc.af.mil/photos/mediagallery.asp?galleryID=5404 hourly cost http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/09/13/us-northropgrumman-globalhawk-idUSBRE98C12220130913

Re:That's cool (1)

tragedy (27079) | about 9 months ago | (#45450255)

The $20,000/hour is pretty much certain to be the kind of naive accounting that's often seen with these sorts of things. It's pretty certain to be the amortized cost of the equipment, plus maintenance and operating costs, divided by the time you're actually using it. The problem with accounting like that is that it means that, if you use the equipment less, the cost per hour goes up. When you're stacking additional uses on top of the primary function, the proper way to measure things like this is to use just the operational and maintenance costs it incurs as a result of the particular use. The amortized cost of the equipment should only be figured into the decision of whether to use the equipment or not. If it would otherwise be sitting idle, or being used for training excercises for which the alternate use would be suitable, then you use it. If you have a better use, then you don't use it.

Of course, you obviously can't dedicate such an expensive piece of equipment purely to fighting forest fires. You shouldn't need to in any case, as there are far, far cheaper solutions. In fact, the satellite discussed in this article may well be a cheaper solution than a single Global Hawk. In fact, since it would take quite a few of those drones to cover the same area as the satellite, the satellite would be a much cheaper solution. For that matter, any number of other cheaper drones could probably do the job as well.

Re:That's cool (1)

icebike (68054) | about 9 months ago | (#45450613)

Naive Accounting seems to be par for the course.

estimates that the satellite, which could be built and operated by the federal government, would cost several hundred million dollars – a fraction of the nation's $2.5 billion yearly firefighting budget.

Comparing a satellite to the entire firefighting budget might be valid if the satellite would make the entire budget unnecessary, or reduce it by a significant amount. But it probably won't. (I can't begin to count the number of federal projects that are sold as cost saving measures which end up costing far more than what they were supposed to cost, and vastly more than what they were supposed to replace.)

Finding the fire does you nothing more than having a guy in a tower. You still have to mobilize a bunch of guys to drop in and take care of it, and/or a air crew to drop water/retardant on it.

Re:That's cool (1)

slick7 (1703596) | about 9 months ago | (#45450891)

Naive? These bastards know exactly what they're doing.

Re:That's cool (2)

TapeCutter (624760) | about 10 months ago | (#45447727)

Despite the recent fire in NSW, hitting spot fires fast in the fire season has been proven to reduce the damage from bushfires, off course you need to combine that with slow controlled burns in the off season. There's no "silver bullet", but a satellite would be a handy weapon.

Re:That's cool (1)

Gavagai80 (1275204) | about 9 months ago | (#45448171)

Controlled burns happen all the time for that purpose already. We don't need to have uncontrolled burns.

Re:That's cool (3, Insightful)

fermion (181285) | about 9 months ago | (#45448439)

There is much evidence to suggest that the aggressive fire management is the reason we have such big fires. Fires are a natural part of the forest. Some trees have even evolved to depend on fire for the life cycle. Be it lightening or accidentally human fire there is no reason why a fire in the forest needs to be put out. Maybe limited with fire break, but not put out. The damage of a fire is often caused when it has been prevented so often that it burns so hot that the forest cannot regenerate.

In am also not sure what the value is of risking human lives to save property. It seems every year so family has lost a loved one fighting a forest fire. Why? So someone's replaceable home can be saved? A forest fire should be treated like a hurricane. There is time secure the belongings and evacuate.

Re:That's cool (3, Interesting)

Macgrrl (762836) | about 9 months ago | (#45450811)

Anecdotally, during the 1983 Ash Wednesday bushfires [wikipedia.org] in Victoria (Australia), roughly 1/3 of the state burned. That's with fire crews actively trying to put the fire out and prevent it from taking over highly populated areas.

It is not inconceivable that left unattended significantly more area would have been consumed, and that it would have reached population areas such as Geelong or Bendigo, which could not easily have been evacuated.

To give you an idea of the speed it was traveling, at the point we were evacuated, we were told the fire was at Airey's Inlet and we had less than 5 minutes to get to the beach at Road Knight before it was due to hit. It takes roughly 10 minutes to drive to Airey's from where we lived at the speed limit (100kmp).

Bushfires spring up out of nowhere, are largely unpredictable as they can make their own winds and change direction in a moment. While you can predict high risk days, you don't know where they will start - unlike a hurricane which takes time to form and you can see it coming usually days in advance.

Re:That's cool (1)

manu0601 (2221348) | about 10 months ago | (#45451799)

I wish I had mod points for you. Indeed preventing small fires leads to giant ones.

Re:That's cool (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45449373)

Let it burn. But now the fire will burn too hot and it will kill, not clear.

Re:That's cool (1)

fredrated (639554) | about 10 months ago | (#45453611)

That is why controlled burns have become a favored tool of wildfire management.

Re:That's cool (1)

jamiesan (715069) | about 10 months ago | (#45456917)

Also, remember: Only Hugh can prevent Florist Friars.

Use GPS (3, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45447517)

Every GPS satellite has automatic nuclear-detonation detectors [fas.org] built in. Just turn the sensitivity up a little bit, and presto! A global forest fire detection system.

Re:Use GPS (3, Informative)

digitalchinky (650880) | about 10 months ago | (#45447673)

No need to turn up the sensitivity at all. SBIRS / STSS has been around since the 70's or 80's - these (optical / IR) satellites search for ballistic missile launches and track those already in progress. Wildfires and a myriad of other heat sources would logically be filtered out since they don't represent a military threat, certainly the NRO would whine about it exposing capability, but it seems to me that the USA already has this technology orbiting the earth already. These 3 letter agencies have taken a lot more than they've given back, maybe it's time to shift focus and put some of this hardware to better use.

Re:Use GPS (2)

penix1 (722987) | about 9 months ago | (#45448061)

certainly the NRO would whine about it exposing capability

"But...But... They will see the big board!" -- General 'Buck' Turgidson (George C. Scott)

http://www.imdb.com/character/ch0003295/bio [imdb.com]

Re:Use GPS (1)

RNLockwood (224353) | about 9 months ago | (#45449463)

The link provided by the OP is 14 years old. This is not evidence that current GPS satellites have optical (or any of the sensors mentioned) on board. They could be on board but the optical sensor is designed to detect "the optical time signature of NUDET bursts " which is probably not the same as a wildfire shortly after ignition. If the detector could also designed or tweaked to detect very small fires this would be a real advance.

The detector is not just a camera with a telephoto lens and IR filter (works in Hollywood, though) , that would work for near IR (NIR) but not thermal IR (TIR) since silica glass is opaque to TIR and the silicon sensor array of the camera would not detect TIR. Lenses and filters must be of more exotic materials and I think that the detector array would be micro-bolometer based but there may be others.

Additionally the GOES satellites are geo-stationary which means that they can "look" at a hot spot long enough to detect enough energy for discriminatiion unlike GPS which cannot.

12 square meters? (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45447529)

i bet there's some existing satellites with even better resolution and heat detection capabilities than that... but they're off-limits to the national park service and other forest/wildlife agencies......

Holistic Wild Fire Ecology (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45447547)

How does this reflect the paradigm of viewing wild fires as natural events, the suppression of which is a modification of nature which leads to build up of fuel sources creating larger fires, although that is only one side effect of the change in natural processes, many others of which can have other negative repurcusssions?

It seems as if the paradigm here is that all fires will be stopped. If 100% achievable that possibly could cut out the first mentioned side effect of fire suppression, but none of the others which include deeper repurcussion in ecosystems and soil/biological flux. If this could be integrated into a natural fire embracing approach, i.e. allowing some fires, stopping fires that are in areas with excess fuel/danger conditions then it could be a more effective tool, but only with a coherent framework guiding it's usage. The gaps in pursuing that policy would still need to be addressed, i.e. dealing with areas that are 'unhealthy' in terms of fuel levels, etc, which likely costs $$$. If the system can save money and that is channeled into those interventions pushing towards sustainable levels, the system could be a solid gain, but if it's just used as a stronger tool without a coherent bigger picture it will just amplify negative side effects somewhere or another.

Re:Holistic Wild Fire Ecology (3, Insightful)

Mysticalfruit (533341) | about 10 months ago | (#45447887)

I was wondering the same thing... part of the reason we're in the mess we're currently in is that for the last 30+ years instead of letting fires burn in a controlled way we've just prevented them entirely.

Now we've got land that's just choked with burnable material just waiting for a spark.

I'm all for building such a satellite and launching it but I think that it should be part of a larger strategy surrounding responsible fire management, not just prevention.

This Summer... (1)

MrKaos (858439) | about 10 months ago | (#45447561)

We could really use this in Australia.

Re:This Summer... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45451937)

Funnily enough Australia has been doing this with the Sentinel system with a 10^2m resolution since 2002. Using US-supplied satellites no less. http://www.ga.gov.au/ausgeonews/ausgeonews200906/fire.jsp [ga.gov.au]

Re:This Summer... (1)

MrKaos (858439) | about 10 months ago | (#45453501)

Thank you for the link.

When I was in School. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45447627)

When I was taking a few Helicopter Lessons. There was a listing at the school for the more experienced pilots to rack up discounted time by flying around spotting fire in the Los Angeles Area. So this is just another attempt by Big Science to take jobs from the little man.

Import the Rhinocerous. (2)

TheRealHocusLocus (2319802) | about 10 months ago | (#45447675)

The rhino would provide valuable partner to achieve wildfire control in forested and urban settings. This species would quickly achieve a comfortable equilibrium with humans, and would be far less invasive than, say, Red Box vending machines.

Fire protection demo:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OZ81dcD1N8s [youtube.com]

Working with humans: assisting in tree-climbing:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MNUUKirMfVM [youtube.com]

Sounds like (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45447677)

http://sentinel.ga.gov.au/acres/sentinel/index.shtml

Sentinel is a national bushfire monitoring system that provides timely information about hotspots to emergency service managers across Australia. The mapping system allows users to identify fire locations with a potential risk to communities and property.

Stop stopping fires (4, Informative)

Tailhook (98486) | about 10 months ago | (#45447683)

It's supposed to burn.

Don't turn this simple, natural reality into a problem by preventing fires until you have a giant pile of fuel that inevitably erupts into a biblical disaster.

Since it's supposed to burn, we don't need early detection to make putting it out easier. So put away the satellites; the Department of the Interior can just not expand by another $63 kabillion in the name of "fighting" forest fires with a space program so they can "respond" to the site of some hapless rural leaf burner with a squad of jack-booted enviro-thugs.

Sorry if your vision of the perfect home is a mountain mcmasion embedded in a sylvan paradise. That's just how it is here on Earth where wood eventually burns. Clear the perimeter or risk losing it to the next natural and necessary forest fire.

"They" won't let you clear the perimeter to protect your property? Enviro-statists suck; stop voting for them. "They" banned controlled burns and other forest management? Enviro-statists suck; stop voting for them.

In terms of acreage, you're 99% right (1)

stomv (80392) | about 10 months ago | (#45447693)

And personally, I agree with you about mountain cabins, be they of the 800 or 8000 square foot variety. And, in fact, the Dept of the Interior et al do let plenty of wildfires burn out.

That written, cities are the natural habitat of mankind, and we do have an obligation to protect more urban settings.

Re:Stop stopping fires (3, Insightful)

Livius (318358) | about 10 months ago | (#45447799)

People who run parks are professionals who know this.

The goal is to manage forest fires, not ignore them.

Re:Stop stopping fires (1)

transporter_ii (986545) | about 10 months ago | (#45447807)

I can see both sides of a controlled burn. Yes, it is probably the right thing to do. But the first time it got out of control and burned a bunch of houses down, the crap would hit the fan. Can you imagine the news footage of the people who's houses were burned down by a fire set intentionally by the government. Wow. I don't generally like politicians more than anyone else, but even I could understand the motivation to not be put in this position.

Re:Stop stopping fires (4, Informative)

sribe (304414) | about 9 months ago | (#45448117)

I can see both sides of a controlled burn. Yes, it is probably the right thing to do. But the first time it got out of control and burned a bunch of houses down, the crap would hit the fan. Can you imagine the news footage of the people who's houses were burned down by a fire set intentionally by the government.

Colorado residents do not have to imagine this; we lived it this year. Homes destroyed, people dead, because the state forest service ignored its own guidelines for setting and monitoring controlled burns.

Hint: you defer the controlled burn when winds are predicted to be gusting to 60-80 m/h in the days after the burn.

Hint: when guidelines call for you to have personnel monitoring the burn site for a certain period afterward, you have the people up there at least most of the time; you do not leave it unattended for days.

Hint: when guidelines call for the personnel you send to take a source of water (in other words, small tank truck) with them, you do not send two guys in a pickup with shovels.

Hint: when guidelines say it is time to call in an emergency, and there's no phone or radio service, the two guys should abandon their shovels long enough to get to where they can call, rather than continuing to beat at individual hot spots in a gradually losing race until the thing explodes.

Whether or not they learned these lessons, we do not know, because of course the bureaucrats went into full-on defensive mode and refused to admit error, refused to out who it was that made the catastrophic decisions, and so on.

Re:Stop stopping fires (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45451667)

The above post is exactly why too many fires are put out and not enough controlled burns are started. Blame. Homeowners live in a forest and want to blame the government for not reducing that risk to zero. The problem's not environmentalists and never has been. Houses in a forest will get burned. No matter what, but hindsight is 20/20 and so you can always blame someone else when your forest house burns.

Re:Stop stopping fires (1)

Gavagai80 (1275204) | about 9 months ago | (#45448179)

I live near the El Dorado National Forest in California. There are frequently notices of controlled burns. I've yet to ever hear of a problem or controversy about it. Seems like a solved problem to me.

Re:Stop stopping fires (3, Informative)

TapeCutter (624760) | about 10 months ago | (#45447859)

Pull your fat head in mate, because you don't have a fucking clue what you are talking about. Here in Australia the bush can burn to the ground one year and do the same fucking thing the next, there's this season in between called spring where if it's a wet year it all grows back in THREE MONTHS. Large parts of the black Saturday fires had burned the previous season and had been deliberate burnt again in early spring, yet we still had a firestorm [wikipedia.org] strong enough to melt windscreens and engine blocks. And no we're not talking about people sitting on top of a tree covered mountain, the most damaging and deadly fires occur in the outer suburbs of major cities such as Melbourne, Athens, and Los Angeles.

NOBODY, especially environmentalists, have "banned controlled burns" anywhere on the planet, that's just some lunatic tea party bullshit that makes your puny brain feel good about itself. In fact over here "environmentalists" have been instrumental in getting the experience of 40kyrs of native fire control practice recognised and at least three states now employ natives to teach and practice it.

the site of some hapless rural leaf burner with a squad of jack-booted enviro-thugs

Seems to me your the only one who wants to "kick heads". And really, what the fuck has bushfire control got to do with someone burning a pile of leaves in their yard?

Re:Stop stopping fires (1)

LWATCDR (28044) | about 9 months ago | (#45448041)

Actually you are over reacting and not reading what he said. He said nothing about environmentalists.
Here is what he said, "Enviro-statists suck; stop voting for them."
I also think he is a bit off. There is a problem with people fighting controlled burns an a much bigger one in the past. People like lush green forests and hate to see them burn. To set them on fire really drives a lot of people nuts. That being said controlled burns are used and with good effect in many areas. The problems with controlled burns are in the very areas you mentioned. Near cities. Fire is scary and controlled burns do not always stay controlled. People that live on the edge of cities do not like black burned forests because they are ugly.

As to Australia and there firestorms and fires? So what? I mean it is Australia and everything in the country is trying to kill you anyway. You know that even the imported bunny rabbits will eventually evolve into a venomous animal. Just kidding but yes you guys have some real problems with fires.

Please stop using the Tea Party as judas goat for everything that you do not agree with. No I am not a Tea Party fan but I know people that are. They are nice people with kids that work hard and feel they are getting shafted by the government. They are not all stupid or evil and none of them I know want to ban controlled burns or want to destroy the environment. The worst way to have a dialog is making a villain out of those that disagree with you. You will get a lot of likes on Slashdot buy invoking the Tea Party but you will not change anyones mind or even get them to look at your point of view. \

Re:Stop stopping fires (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45448363)

He said nothing about environmentalists.
Here is what he said, "Enviro-statists suck; stop voting for them."

What do you think *Enviro* is short for, you obese moron?

Re:Stop stopping fires (1)

LWATCDR (28044) | about 9 months ago | (#45449723)

Enviro means environment. statists means unchanging. It means someone that has the mistaken idea that the environment should not change. An environmentalist is someone that believes that one should do as little harm to the environment as possible.
An enviro statist would not want controlled burns and would want any fires fought. There are people like that. They also want to ban airplanes from overflying national parks even at altitude or using a helicopter to bring in say building supplies for maintenance at nation parks.
An environmentalist does not want people leaving trash in national parks or building roads through wetlands.
As to being obese what does that have to do with my statement true or otherwise? The moron part well since your comment has nothing of value and is noise I suggest that you might reframe from commenting until you have something to say of value and are willing to put your nick up with it.

Re:Stop stopping fires (1)

Macgrrl (762836) | about 9 months ago | (#45450835)

As to Australia and there firestorms and fires? So what? I mean it is Australia and everything in the country is trying to kill you anyway. You know that even the imported bunny rabbits will eventually evolve into a venomous animal. Just kidding but yes you guys have some real problems with fires.

Why would a rabbit need to be venomous when it can have big, sharp, pointy teeth [wikipedia.org] ?

Re:Stop stopping fires (4, Informative)

sribe (304414) | about 9 months ago | (#45448135)

NOBODY, especially environmentalists, have "banned controlled burns" anywhere on the planet, that's just some lunatic tea party bullshit that makes your puny brain feel good about itself. In fact over here...

Actually, over here, the US Forest Service pursued a policy of 100% fire suppression, never letting anything burn if they could stop it, for 50 fucking years. Whether or not environmentalists had any role in this, I do not know. But environmentalists have had a significant role in blocking the type of selective logging, "patch clear-cutting", which is what we need to reduce the danger and start to restore a healthy balance in western forests.

So, I'm glad that your environmentalists have played such a role in your country. But that doesn't mean ours are not idiots, and in fact on this subject most of ours are uninformed idiots.

Re:Stop stopping fires (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45449783)

Maybe they run things differently in different parks, but in the places around where I grew up in the southeast, there have been controlled burns since I was a kid 30+ years ago, and I still see them around. They simply wait until the weather makes things controllable. Additionally, during larger fires, they don't put much effort into extinguishing them if they have no chance of spreading to inhabited areas. I've watched as they stand around a fire break near the start of a residential area and just let the fire burn when the winds were not favorable to jumping the break. I don't know how that fits in with a policy of "100% fire suppression."

Re:Stop stopping fires (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45450845)

Actually, over here, the US Forest Service pursued a policy of 100% fire suppression, never letting anything burn if they could stop it, for 50 fucking years.

Lies, stop spreading them.

Re:Stop stopping fires (1)

RNLockwood (224353) | about 9 months ago | (#45449365)

While it may be true that 'NOBODY, especially environmentalists, have "banned controlled burns" anywhere on the planet.' never the less they have been effectively halted in many venues. Two main reasons are: 1) Lack of funding - There's little funding for prescribed burns (US lingo) and 2) Agency and personal liability - If there is no chance the prescribed fire can escape it probably won't burn well enough to accomplish objective of the burn. Thus there is always the possibility of escape. Escaped fires are immensely expensive to the agency conducting the burn AND to the managers that signed off on the burn and the crew conducting the burn. If someone injured or dies then there can be criminal charges as well. In years past California had an insurance program to take care of the cost of escaped burns but that program is no more.

The old adage that "there's never enough money for fire prevention but there's always enough for fire suppression" was old 30 years ago and is still true today.

Re:Stop stopping fires (1)

techno-vampire (666512) | about 10 months ago | (#45451959)

...the most damaging and deadly fires occur in the outer suburbs of major cities such as Melbourne, Athens, and Los Angeles.

It gets somewhat more complicated than that in Los Angeles. The Santa Monica Mountains run between the LA basin and the San Fernando Valley and are (mostly) covered with chaparral, [wikipedia.org] which makes great fuel for brush fires. And, as the climate is semi-arid, fire season is any time that there hasn't been measurable rain for at least 90 days, which means that there can be brush fires visible from Central LA at any time of year and major traffic problems because one or another freeway has to be closed because there's a major fire on at least one side of it, if not both.

Re:Stop stopping fires (1)

gl4ss (559668) | about 9 months ago | (#45448347)

planted forests aren't supposed to burn...

(in plenty of places in the west the eco nuts are trying to preserve artificially made, that is planted, forests(because they've been growing for 50 years and apparently that's as good as god created eternity for 'em. forests consisting of trees that take 50 years to be old enough for sale).

Re:Stop stopping fires (1)

RogueWarrior65 (678876) | about 9 months ago | (#45448539)

Partly correct. Yes, it's supposed to burn but whether it burns in a controlled manner or completely uncontrolled is another matter. Controlled burns and effective management of the forest which includes logging i.e. thinning the forest to attain optimum trees per acres works and everybody benefits. Closing off the forest to all human activity eventually results in disease and extreme fuel loads which when burned essentially sterilize the soil for generations which is what happened at Yarnell Hill.

Re:Stop stopping fires (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45449905)

Partly correct. Yes, it's supposed to burn but whether it burns in a controlled manner or completely uncontrolled is another matter. Controlled burns and effective management of the forest which includes logging i.e. thinning the forest to attain optimum trees per acres works and everybody benefits. Closing off the forest to all human activity eventually results in disease and extreme fuel loads which when burned essentially sterilize the soil for generations which is what happened at Yarnell Hill.

When you say everybody benefits, I am assuming you mean only those that profit from exploitation of a forest.
You will rarely, if ever, find rampant disease in old growth forests that are relatively untouched by humans. An old tree here or there maybe, but that is part of the whole process. Once you put a road through that changes the equation. If they allow building in such a forest area that makes it worse. Logging, in far too many cases, simply means clearcuts, which are cheaper and easier from a logger's point of view but a disaster for the soil, watersheds and the long term health of the forest in general.
Forests in generally arid or semi-arid areas are especially sensitive. Many of them initially sprouted in moister conditions behind retreating glaciers at the end of the last ice age. The forests themselves maintain their own climate to a degree, retaining moisture in the ecosystem. The borders of the forests tend to expand and contract depending on climatic conditions. Cut large sections of the forests and they will likely never grow back without expensive and difficult maintenance by humans. Instead, you will find that native vegetation more suited to drought prone conditions takes over, and that vegetation burns far faster and hotter than a mature forest would, often hot enough to extend the fires to the adjacent forested areas that normally would survive a burn.
There are forested areas that can be logged carefully without causing too much damage, but any plans to log forests in more arid areas (or on hillsides, which face many problems as well) should be scrutinized with a very critical eye.

Re:Stop stopping fires (1)

14erCleaner (745600) | about 9 months ago | (#45448569)

It's supposed to burn.

It's easy to let somebody else's house burn, but when it's your own property going up it's a different story.

The really big, destructive fires here in Colorado the past few years have all been exaggerated by drought and short-term weather conditions. "Letting it burn" doesn't work in these situations; if you don't stop fires quickly, you wind up losing hundreds of houses, as we've been through several times recently.

It works by (1)

Chrisq (894406) | about 10 months ago | (#45447711)

It works by tracking muzzies [liveleak.com]

Lasers (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45447717)

Why not add a 12m2 laser beam to the satellite as well so that when it detects a fire starting up, it can focus the beam on the fire and actually burn so much hotter that it overpowers the flames and causes them to go out. It would have to be powerful enough that a burst of the laser beam would cause all ignitible material in that 12m2 to burn up instantly.

Haven't thought through how it will distinguish between an out of control wildfire though and a bunch of campers sitting around a bonfire...

Re:Lasers (1)

sumdumass (711423) | about 9 months ago | (#45447919)

I've kind of been thinking of something similar to that. I'm not sure it would have to instantly cause all combustible materials to burn up immediately, but suppose a strong laser was mounted to the back of trucks and they used them to sort of back-burn brush at the edge of cities and residential areas when a wild fire is encroaching. You could likely cover a large area and with the intense heat of the laser, possibly cause the fire to burn faster then normal and reduce the risk of it getting out of hand too. Just follow it up with a tanker spraying the burnt area with retardant.

The trucks could use roads and if perched on top of a hill, it should be able to get a good ways down the valley before becoming inefficient. And if the wild fire is large enough to have it's own weather system, the lasers could possibly be used to somewhat direct the heat and therefore disrupt the weather system to the advantage of fighting it.

Of course this is already being investigated with electrical fields I guess.
http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/03/110327191034.htm [sciencedaily.com]

Re: Lasers (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45449537)

Why use a high tech unproven method to back burn? It's easier to just light oil and drip it along where you want to back burn. Can't get to an area on foot? The Aussies already solved that problem with banksia pods, http://www.smh.com.au/environment/weather/nsw-bushfires-banksia-cones-the-latest-weapon-in-the-battle-to-defend-homes-20131023-2vzrt.html

Re: Lasers (1)

sumdumass (711423) | about 10 months ago | (#45451187)

I was thinking of more control over the back burn. Mostly to protect buildings and such in the path of the blaze. As far as unproven, if it is never explored and used, it will never be proven. For all I know, it could be a dud before any real effort is put into it.

Re:Lasers (1)

mister_playboy (1474163) | about 9 months ago | (#45448105)

Our laser technology is nowhere near being able to deliver that kind of power from geostationary orbit to ground level, having to penetrate nearly the entire atmosphere in the process.

Re:Lasers (1)

PPH (736903) | about 9 months ago | (#45448545)

Think of the popcorn we could make.

Fewer fires and acres burned this year-- record? (1)

sadatoni (881603) | about 10 months ago | (#45447759)

I wonder what record they're talking about? This year there has been 43,001 fires, fewer than any of the preceding 9 years, and 4,116,348 acres burned, fewer than any of the preceding 9 years except 2010 (numbers from http://www.nifc.gov/fireInfo/nfn.htm [nifc.gov] ).

Re:Fewer fires and acres burned this year-- record (1)

zippthorne (748122) | about 10 months ago | (#45447873)

So, a record low? That's still a record...

This is a new idea? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45448143)

Silly me. I had assumed that we already had such a system. After all, satellites observing the ground are not a recent invention, space-based IR and optical sensors are not new, and the annual budget for fighting wildfires is large. Guess I should have patented the idea years ago.

DSP or SBIRS? (1)

craigminah (1885846) | about 9 months ago | (#45448303)

Can the DSP or SBIRS constellations do this when over the US and not looking for ICBM launches over foreign territory? I bet they can but maybe the NSA is already tasking them to scan our homes to see what we're grilling outside for dinner (it aids with drone strike accuracy probably :) )

Re:DSP or SBIRS? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45448413)

They can certainly see fires, but the issue is that the specific amount they can distinguish is classified information. If the Government were to re-task SBIRS for reporting wildfires, it would expose classified information whenever it showed how small of a wildfire it detected. The DOD has already been approached about using SBIRS for wildfire detection/reporting and has declined using it for that purpose.

Useless against stupid bureaucrats (1)

RogueWarrior65 (678876) | about 9 months ago | (#45448511)

What good is it going to do when the BLM decides to get territorial for 48 hours preventing local wildfire crews from containing the fire early which ultimately results in the death of 19 firefighters?

Re: Useless against stupid bureaucrats (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45450093)

Please shut your stupid, ignorant mouth. You obviously have no clue about the details of the Granite Mountain Hotshots fatalities or why they occurred. As a wildland firefighter, I think that using their deaths as a red herring in your idiotic rant is the height of boorishness, not to mention ludicrous.
Educate yourself:
http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=cSxSqjRmxIE&desktop_uri=%2Fwatch%3Fv%3DcSxSqjRmxIE

Low Tech Solution Existed then scrapped (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45448661)

We had a low-tech solution for years that worked, then it got scrapped. It provided employment and worked. They called them LOOKOUT TOWERS. They used to be on every tall mountain around here. The people who manned then didn't have to wait until a fire was 12 square meters to work. They watched for the smoke from the fire. I'd bet the total cost was lower than a satellite solution. And it provided employment in areas that need the work. Not in another NSA-like computer center...

Satellite fire detection limited by clouds (1)

arobatino (46791) | about 9 months ago | (#45448883)

The only mention of cloud cover I could find was in the full paper:

FUEGO — Fire Urgency Estimator in Geosynchronous Orbit — A Proposed Early-Warning Fire Detection System [mdpi.com]

One quote from the paper:

Atmospheric transmission windows in the near and mid-infrared are adequate for detecting fires. Fires
cannot be seen under heavy cloud cover, and can be detected with reduced sensitivity under smoke and
thin clouds, depending on the wavelength of the detectors, smoke particulate size, and moisture content
of the atmospheric column.

You can buy a whole lot of balloons (1)

bobstreo (1320787) | about 9 months ago | (#45448937)

For a few hundred million.

How about if you create a networked grid of tethered balloons over the areas of concern. You can also use to monitor growers, illegal timber harvesting...

Re:You can buy a whole lot of balloons (1)

arobatino (46791) | about 9 months ago | (#45450153)

Balloons also have the advantage of being below the clouds, so not affected by cloud cover. Drones might also work. Though balloons or drones might be vulnerable to lasers from the ground.

Pfft, not new (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45449487)

It's not a new approach, we've used satellites in Australia to find spot fires for years. Satellite data is backed up by pilots to confirm smoke.

Doesn't this system aleady exist? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45450769)

There's certainly one that covers Australia. It's called Sentinel (http://sentinel.ga.gov.au), and it's what NBC misused about a month ago during the Sydney fires, when they showed a graphic indicating that the whole country was on fire (http://www.smh.com.au/environment/weather/alarming-us-map-of-australian-bushfires-explained-20131025-2w6vi.html).

South Africa already does something similar (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45450861)

I don't have a citation, but I remember seeing on a documentary that firefighters in South Africa received satellite imagery and used it to locate and extinguish forest fires almost as soon as they happened.

This is ironic (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45451493)

There is (was - it has been a few years) a well-known textbook on satellite & space systems design that used this mission of a fire-detection satellite to structure and illustrate the examples for developing the space & ground segment designs and examining tradeoffs. Having a brain-fade on the title and it's at work so can't check.

There are several ways to skin this cat depending if you want the constantly staring eye in space (put something in geo) or can tolerate some delays in return for a less demanding sensor and communications (one or more satellites in LEO). A gravity-gradient-stabilized microsatellite might be enough for the sensor platform, and it would be really interesting to see what could be done with cubesats. Put up enough small cheap satellites and you can get a very reliable and capable system-level performance.

Smokey the bear says: (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45451759)

'Only you can prevent forest fires' :)

http://multivu.prnewswire.com/mnr/adcouncil/50581/images/50581-hi-smokey_busshelter060811-1.jpg

Advanced Fire Information System-afis.co.za (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45452633)

The Advabced Fire Information System, afis.co.za, is a global satellite based fire monitoring system, that has been active for the past 5-6 years. The system is able to automatically warn users of fires that have been detected and delivers the information via the web, or to mobile and tablet.

Drone baby drone! (1)

Joe Klingon (3391309) | about 10 months ago | (#45457767)

Just use drones ... and while you are at it, why not let the drone drop a missile design to take out the oxygen of the fire or spread the fuel.

Yep your 25 years too late (1)

BigLonn (786463) | about 10 months ago | (#45458233)

I used to be a security guard at the National Interagency Fire Center "NIFC" in Boise. NIFC has got all those sensors you just mentioned and has been running for 25 years, its a war room setting a lot like the pentagons nosc, lotsa big screens that look a lot like the something out of wargames. Things like thermal sensors to spot fires from orbit and also orbital lightning strike detectors too. Really facinating to look at.
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