Hugh Pickens DOT Com writes "As firefighters emerge from another record wildfire season in the Western United States, Robert Sanders reports at the UC Berkeley News Center that scientists have designed a satellite using state-of-the-art sensors, that could view the Western US almost continuously, snapping pictures of the ground every few seconds searching for small hot spots (12 m2) that could be newly ignited wildfires. Firefighting resources could then be directed to these spots in hopes of preventing the fires from growing out of control and threatening lives and property. "If we had information on the location of fires when they were smaller, then we could take appropriate actions quicker and more easily, including preparing for evacuation," says fire expert Scott Stephens. Fire detection today is much like it was 200 years ago, relying primarily on spotters in fire towers or on the ground and on reports from members of the public. This information is augmented by aerial reconnaissance and lightning detectors that steer firefighters to ground strikes, which are one of the most common wildfire sparks. But satellite technology, remote sensing and computing have advanced to the stage where it's now possible to orbit a geostationary satellite that can reliably distinguish small, but spreading, wildfires with few false alarms. Carl Pennypacker estimates that the satellite, which could be built and operated by the federal government, would cost several hundred million dollars – a fraction of the nation's $2.5 billion yearly firefighting budget. "With a satellite like this, we will have a good chance of seeing something from orbit before it becomes an Oakland fire," says Pennypacker. "It could pay for itself in one firefighting season.""
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