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Fighting Fires from Space

With fires rampaging through the western United States, we desperately need some new, sophisticated fire fighting equipment. Now we have it: the GOES satellite, a weather satellite 23,000 miles away, in orbit around the Earth.

U.S. and Canadian firefighters are using satellite data from both GOES and the European Space Agency to monitor wildfires. Satellite photos and data help teams on the ground predict, spot, and observe fire outbreaks so they can catch them quickly, before they grow and spread.

The GOES 8 and GOES 10 satellites produce 96 photos each day. Ground station computers send that data out in map form to emergency personnel within 60 minutes of its transmission.

Despite satellite technology, most fires are first seen on the ground, before the space data comes in. However, there are still reasons to depend on GOES, according to Donna McNamara, a meteorologist at the NOAA satellite services division. "Satellites work best for spotting fires starting in remote areas not served by roads and there's not a lot of access," McNamara says?"Our main customers are the people divvying up resources between fighting multiple fires. All the local leaders are saying 'we need more people,' so satellites give a strategic view of the situation, where to best spend our resources."

McNamara says the "biggest problem is false detects.? Asphalt baking in the sun can read as a fire to the GOES computer, so observers have to check out conditions on the ground in order to verify the findings.

But at least a satellite won?t start any fires. The Colorado and Arizona wildfires were actually started by people who were supposed to be spotting and fighting them. If that?s the kind of prevention we?ve got on the ground, we could use some help from space.

Throughout history, human beings have pulled themselves up out of the ashes and started over. Read how they did it in ancient times in ?Catastrophobia? by Barbara Hand Clow, click here.

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