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NASA Helps Tame Earth-Based Fires Using Space-Based Technology

Los Angeles County firefighters fight a fire near Wrightwood, Calif.

Los Angeles County firefighters fight a fire near Wrightwood, Calif. // Matt Hartman/AP

A new space-based technology from NASA can provide firefighters with a more detailed view of wildfires before they spread.

Announced last week, the fire-detection tool receives data from NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s satellite, which allows users to get a clearer view of fires by providing location information every few minutes. While previous technology provided a resolution of 3,280 feet, this technology has a resolution of 1,230 feet, according to a NASA press release

The data can then be combined with computer models and used to predict the course of a fire according to its location and the weather.

The new tool has already helped to “transform" the use satellite remote sensing to manage wildfires, according to the agency.

Every year, wildfires destroy about 7 million acres of land. The Forest Service and the Interior Department devote about $1.5 billion to putting them out. Now, in the midst of wildfire season, the new tool could help reduce the numbers of acres burned, officials say.

“We hope that by infusing these higher-resolution detection data and fire behavior modeling outputs into tactical fire situations, we can lessen the pressure on those working in fire management,” said Wilfrid Schroeder, a University of Maryland professor who helped lead the project, in a statement.

The tool was funded by NASA and is currently being used by the Agriculture Department’s Forest Service.

The announcement of the new tool follows a formal agreement between the two agencies to work together in the future on other earth science research and technology projects.

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