Using satellite imagery, NASA helps firefighters tackle wildfires by directing them to the most critical sites first.
The satellites, which are operated by NASA and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, help planes operated by the U.S. Forest Service determine which areas are in the greatest need of help.
With smoke, ash and other factors, navigating the skies above a wildfire can be uncertain and risky. This technique helps prevent casualties and put fires out more quickly.
“We use the satellites to inform decisions on where to stage assets across the country,” said the Forest Service’s Brad Quayle in an interview with NASA. “When there’s high competition for firefighters, tankers and aircraft, decisions have to be made on how to distribute those assets.”
According to NASA, the satellite imagery commonly detects the wildfire before it’s noticed on the ground. With early detection, officials can make critical choices that impact firefighter safety and public health.
The satellites also track smoke from wildfires, making it possible to calculate where the smoke will travel so that the public can take air quality precautions. This technology is used to put out fires across the nation, but is particularly useful in states like Alaska and California, where wildfires are common.