Status Report

In Record Wildfire Season, NOAA Satellites Aid U.S. Fire Managers

By SpaceRef Editor
January 4, 2007
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In Record Wildfire Season, NOAA Satellites Aid U.S. Fire Managers

image: NOAA satellite image of wildfire in San Bernardino County, Calif., taken July 12, 2006, at 10:15 a.m. EDT that burned 17,000 acres. Smoke from the fire extends northeast to southern Nevada and western Utah. Click here for high resolution version.

Jan. 4, 2007 — The 2006 wildfire season in the United States set an all-time record with more than 9.8 million acres burned in more than 96,000 wildfires. NOAA satellites were key in detecting and monitoring the movement of the blazes, providing invaluable information to firefighters on the ground.

Throughout the season, NOAA’s two geostationary satellites and two polar-orbiting spacecraft provided more than 200 images each day. The most hectic stretch of last year’s season came between July and September, when NOAA satellites detected 98,848 hot spots.

“Satellite detection of fires and hotspots provides valuable information about the location of emerging fire problems,” said Heath Hockenberry, the NOAA National Fire Weather Program leader, located at the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho. “This information allows on-site fire weather forecasters to remain aware of new fire locations and potential problem areas.”

Along with satellite coverage, part of NOAA’s operational fire and smoke program includes the Hazard Mapping System, which detects the wildfires and tracks the smoke they produce. HMS, which incorporates both NOAA and NASA satellites, tracks smoke from wildfires occurring throughout all of North America and pinpoints fires that are emitting the most smoke. HMS overlays fire locations with satellite imagery, providing analysts on the ground a high measure of quality control.

“NOAA Incident Meteorologists and fire weather forecasters always need to know where fires are and how they are developing in complex terrain,” Hockenberry said. “This information is essential to on-site fire weather forecast accuracy and usefulness.”

“The smoke from these fires can be extremely harmful to air quality, which is a threat to health and public safety,” said Mary E. Kicza, assistant administrator for the NOAA Satellite and Information Service. “NOAA is committed to providing the satellite coverage and products needed to help save lives and property from dangerous fires.”

The NOAA National Weather Service, the U.S. Forest Service, the Environmental Protection Agency and state and local land and air quality managers use fire and smoke products produced by the NOAA Satellite and Information Service. In 2007 NOAA, an agency of the U.S. Commerce Department, celebrates 200 years of science and service to the nation. Starting with the establishment of the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey in 1807 by Thomas Jefferson much of America’s scientific heritage is rooted in NOAA. The agency is dedicated to enhancing economic security and national safety through the prediction and research of weather and climate-related events and information service delivery for transportation, and by providing environmental stewardship of the nation’s coastal and marine resources. Through the emerging Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS), NOAA is working with its federal partners, more than 60 countries and the European Commission to develop a global monitoring network that is as integrated as the planet it observes, predicts and protects.

Relevant Web Sites

Media Contact: John Leslie, NOAA Satellite and Information Service, (301) 713-1265

SpaceRef staff editor.