Meet FUEGO: Wildfire Fighting Technology of the Future

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An artist’s concept of the FUEGO satellite, which would snap digital photos of the western United States every few seconds in search of hot spots that could be newly ignited fires.
  • R. E. Lafever, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
  • An artist’s concept of the FUEGO satellite, which would snap digital photos of the western United States every few seconds in search of hot spots that could be newly ignited fires.

In the shadow of another devastating wildfire season, fire managers are keeping a close eye on a new piece of technology that could be their newest weapon in blaze-busting: a fire-spotting satellite.

The journal Remote Sensing has published an article from a team of University of California at Berkeley scientists that say they've designed such a satellite, with state-of-the-art sensors which would snap pictures of the ground every few seconds in search of hot spots that could be newly ignited wildfires. The researchers said firefighting resources could then be directed to the hotspots of preventing the fires from growing out of control.

The scientists even have a name for their design: FUEGO— which stands for Fire Urgency Estimator in Geosynchronous Orbit. They're hoping to secure public or private funds to build the first model, which could several hundred million dollars.

“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,” said Scott Stephens, a UC Berkeley associate professor of environmental science, policy and management. “Wildfires would be smaller in scale if you could detect them before they got too big, like less than an acre.”