Fighting Fires via Satellite

by

A forest fire is a massive wall of heat and flame.  Driven by high winds, it can leap across roads, spin into columns of fire, turn homes to ash.

But every year, around the world, men and women walk into the fire to save the forest, the homes, the people.  They are wildfire fighters, and they do one of the world’s hardest jobs.

Working 16 hours a day for two or more weeks straight, they go without showers or regular meals, and they sleep on the ground.  Most of all – in that same unforgiving ground – they dig.  Water isn’t enough to fight forest fires – they are too big for that.  Digging trenches and burning brush keeps fuel away from the fire.  And so, they dig.

It’s a dangerous job.  An average of nineteen American wildfire fighters perish in the flames each year.

Fighting Fires via Satellite

To save forest and homes and lives – including their own – firefighters turn to satellite technology.  Weather data from space provides accurate forecasts of conditions on the ground.  Satellite image data helps fire commanders see where fires are and makes it possible for artificial intelligence to predict their course.  But all the knowledge in the world can’t help unless it reaches the firefighters on the line.

As Tim Dunfee, Deputy Fire Chief at the Angles National Forest in California, put it: “When you hit the forest boundary, all cellular communications essentially go dead.  Even our typical satphone devices have a hard time getting out up there.  And I was just amazed we were able to drive to Chantry Flat, which is shadowed by geography in almost all directions and pick up the iPhone. To have a device where essentially they turn the inverter on, hit a power button and within a couple of minutes, it’s ready to go.  That’s priceless.”

A company called Kymeta produces a satellite terminal that mounts easily on the roof of cars or at a base camp.  With the push of a button, the Kymeta u8 terminal powers up and connects to a satellite, without the need for specialized training.

It provides a local Wi-Fi signal that lets commanders and firefighters use the phones, tablets, and laptops they are used to.  The cost of the terminal and connectivity are bundled into a single package, making it easy and affordable.

A Better Chance of Survival

What does that Wi-Fi connection mean to a firefighter?  A better chance of beating the blaze, because crews can coordinate their work even when they are far apart.  A better chance of survival, by warning each other about where fires are spreading.  A chance to connect with home, and let their loved ones know they’re safe.

You may live far from the places where forests catch fire – but you can’t escape their impact.  In the most recent season, wildfires burned more than 10 million acres of the American West and sent smoke as far as Europe.  Australia lost 46 million acres to wildfires, and they put as much ash into the air as a volcanic eruption.  A heat wave in Siberia drove massive fires that filled the atmosphere with more than 244 million tons of carbon.

The u8 terminal is transforming how we predict and fight fires.  Along with thousands more satellites poised to launch, it is helping turn terror into hope – for the forest, the firefighters and for all of us.

Produced for SpaceNews by Space & Satellite Professionals International

See more stories and videos of satellite making a better world at www.bettersatelliteworld.com