Satellites support fight against fires

The European Space Agency (ESA) is supporting a satellite service that will monitor damages caused by forest fires in European countries. The service will then identify areas prone to new outbreaks. With temperatures in the nucleus of a fire’s flames approaching 800 degrees Celsius and a speed of 100 metres per minute, forest fires can lead to such disastrous effects in the countryside that these can be observed from space. These ‘fire scars’ – as they are known – characterised by their reddish-brown colour, can be pinpointed automatically by sensors from SPOT and Landsat satellites in space. The aim of the service is to develop a science to mapping out European fires, permitting a more detailed account of fire-stricken areas and alterations caused by man in the affected areas. Currently, the service is used by the Italian and French National Civil Protection departments and by the Director General of Bio-diversity in Spain – an organ of the Spanish Environment Ministry that supports regional fire-fighting activities with more than 50 airships operating from 33 aerodromes.