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UC Berkeley Researchers Design Satellite To Track Down Wildfires

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Rim Fire

The Rim Fire burning uncontrolled near Yosemite National Park. (CBS)

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BERKELEY (CBS SF) – Scientists at the University of California, Berkeley have designed a satellite that could pinpoint wildfires; a project they say could save millions of dollars in firefighting resources while preventing the out-of-control infernos increasingly seen in western states.

The satellite would rely on state of the art sensors to snap images of the ground every few seconds, allowing fire crews to be directed to hot spots to prevent them from getting out of hand, according to UC Berkeley.

Such technology used to be prohibitively expensive and prone to false alarms, said the researchers.

“With a satellite like this, we will have a good chance of seeing something from orbit before it becomes an Oakland fire,” said Cal physicist Carl Pennypacker, referring to the Oakland Hills fire disaster in 1991.

The satellite, which is dubbed the Fire Urgency Estimator in Geosynchronous Orbit (FUEGO), could be built for a fraction of the nation’s $2.5 billion yearly firefighting budget, according to Pennypacker. “It could pay for itself in one firefighting season,” he said.

The scientists said they hoped the satellite could be built for several hundred million dollars, either by a government or private entity.

They noted that, because of global warming, wildfires are expected to become more frequent and extensive than ever, while fire detection remains largely the same – basically relying on people to see smoke before fire-fighting assets are deployed.

The FUEGO satellite project was detailed in an article published October 17 by the online journal Remote Sensing.

This year alone, Cal Fire says it has responded to more than 6,000 wildfires in the state.

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