New Technology Enables Wildfire Forecasting

Firefighters better predict wildfire behavior

A wildfire in the Pacific Northwest     Photo: BLMOregon/Flickr

Firefighters are now better able to predict the behavior of wildfires in real time using a new higher-resolution satellite instrument. The device works in coordination with a weather gauge called the Couple Atmosphere-Wildland Fire Environment computer model.

The new satellite instrument, the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite, can cover the entire planet every 12 hours and capture images with pixels equivalent to 1,200 feet across—an improvement from the previous MODIS model, which provided a little over half a mile per pixel. The Couple-Atmosphere-Wildland Fire Environment computer model monitors how the fire interacts with weather.

"With this technique, we believe it's possible to continually issue good forecasts throughout a fire's lifetime, even if it burns for weeks or months," said Janice Coen, researcher for the National Center for Atmospheric Research, lead model developer, and lead author of a paper describing the new model in the latest issue of Geophysical Research Letters.

The new technology could prevent such disasters as the unpredictable Yarnell fire (video below) in Arizona that took the lives of 19 firefighters this summer.

"Many people have resigned themselves to believing that wildfires are unpredictable," said Coen. "We’re showing that’s not true.”

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