Wildfires – How Science Is Helping To Dampen The Flames

Wild fires raging in some corner of the world seem to be hot off the press and in the news a lot.

Huge fires have ravaged thousands of acres of California during the past few days, provoking a state of emergency.

The fires are laying waste to property, animals and people that get in the way, but they are not by far the worst fires ever recorded.

A wildfire is an uncontrolled blaze laying waste to swathes of vegetation, including forests.

How a fire starts varies, from deliberate arson to sparks lighting vegetation from power lines, discarded cigarettes and machinery. Lightning can play a role in some areas.

In the US, around one in 10 wildfires are considered to have started naturally, with the rest needing some sort of human involvement.

Humans to blame

In Brazil and Indonesia, farmers are blamed for starting fires that clear vast areas of forest for agriculture.

Evidence of wild fires go back 420 million years to fossilised charcoal remains on the border between England and Wales.

The message from scientists is wildfires are not a rare phenomenon.

In the USA alone, an average 72,400 wildfires a year destroy 7 million acres of land. In 2015, the worst recorded year for wildfires, 10 million acres were burned.

The problem is becoming so desperate worldwide that NASA has started monitoring wildfires from an array of satellites in orbit above the Earth.

Firefighting from space

“We use the satellites to inform decisions on where to stage assets across the country,” said Brad Quayle of the Forest Service’s Geospatial Technology and Applications Center, which plays a key role in providing remote-sensing data for active wildfire suppression.

“When there’s high competition for firefighters, tankers and aircraft, decisions have to be made on how to distribute those assets.”

The satellites can give vital information to firefighters about the precise location, size and direction a wildfire is moving which would take teams on the ground hours longer to find out.

Even astronauts on the International Space Station help fight fires. They observe and record wildfires from space and pass the information to crews fighting blazes on the ground.

Watch NASA wildfire from space videos on YouTube