Press Release

NASA Satellite, University of Maryland and U. S. Forest Service Provide Rapid Response to Wildfires

By SpaceRef Editor
August 20, 2001
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U.S. firefighters and land managers are using the most modern
NASA satellite data to combat wildfires. NASA’s Terra satellite is
providing a view of fires across the entire United States, helping
local officials manage fires more effectively, both during and
after wildfires. The effort is a collaboration between NASA, the
University of Maryland, College Park, and the U.S. Department of
Agriculture’s Forest Service.

The Terra satellite beams daily images of western U.S. wildfires to
NASA within a few hours of the time that it passes over the region.
These images and active fire detections are transmitted to the
Forest Service. The images will become a regular part of the Forest
Service’s fire monitoring toolkit.

Maps derived from the data show daily active fires and areas that
were burned during previous days. In the future, other Terra-
derived data will help teams of scientists rehabilitate burned
areas. They will use burn severity maps — derived from satellite
and ground measurements — to prevent further erosion, soil loss
and adverse impacts to water quality. Terra data will provide a
quick look, which can then be refined on the ground. The maps will
also help scientists identify critical wildlife habitat affected by
the fire and facilitate reforesting an area.

“NASA remains deeply committed to working cooperatively with its
sister agencies to monitor and combat wildfires across the nation,”
said Ghassem Asrar, NASA’s Associate

Administrator for the Office of Earth Science. “Our investment in
the Terra Earth Observing System is starting to pay tremendous
dividends to the American taxpayer.”

To use the Terra data to tackle forest fires, the three
institutions are integrated under the Rapid Response Project, which
includes a complex communications network. Rob Sohlberg at the
University of Maryland’s Department of Geography leads the project
with Jacques Descloitres at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.
This program was created in response to the 2000 fire season, with
its extensive wildfires in Idaho and Montana.

“The Active Fire Maps offer the potential for understanding the
‘big picture’ when working on resource allocations decisions,” said
Alice Forbes, Deputy Director for Forest Service Fire and Aviation
Operations at the National Interagency Fire Center, Boise, ID. “The
maps can also help the public understand where the fires are
located, and give them a look at the burned areas after fire

By October, the Forest Service will have the capability to produce
its own fire images within minutes of a Terra overpass. The Forest
Service is currently building a processing center, called the
Remote Sensing Applications Center (RSAC), in Salt Lake City, UT,
to generate real-time images of western wildfires. However, the
Forest Service will still receive imagery of the eastern United
States from the University of Maryland and NASA.

The University of Maryland and NASA have developed all of the
needed software, which will be installed at the USFS direct
broadcast station. The Forest Service has developed the
corresponding software that creates the maps from the Terra data
using standard Forest Service mapping techniques.

“The University of Maryland sends images and active fire location
information daily to RSAC staff who are overlaying state boundaries
and topographical features on the images to best determine where
fires are occurring,” said Keith Lannom, the Operations Program
Leader at RSAC. These maps show current active fire areas in real-
time on the Internet.”

Data for tracking fires comes from Terra’s Moderate Resolution
Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS). The Terra spacecraft is part of
NASA’s Earth Science Enterprise, a long-term research effort being
conducted to determine how human-induced and natural changes affect
our global environment.

Wei Min Hao, the Project Leader of the Fire Chemistry Project at
the Forest Service’s Fire Science Laboratory in Montana is
developing a method to track smoke dispersed by wildfires, and to
determine the impact that it has on regional air quality. Hao said,
“During fires where there are large amounts of smoke,
reconnaissance planes that normally map fires can’t fly into an
area, but MODIS can provide those pictures from space.” Dr. Yoram
Kaufman from NASA is working with Dr. Hao on these products.

The MODIS Rapid Response Fire Maps can be accessed through the
National Interagency Fire Center Web site (click on RSAC Fire Maps
link) at:

For additional information, please see:

SpaceRef staff editor.