New Technologies and Collaboration Enhancing National Fire Management Programs

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The USGS is part of a multi-agency partnership supporting new products and processes to improve the detection and monitoring of new and emerging wildfires across the U.S.

The National Interagency Fire Center, National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, USGS, Civil Applications Committee and National Guard Bureau are working together to improve detection and monitoring of new and emerging wildfires across the United States.

The NGA provides Geospatial Intelligence (GEOINT) data to the Civil Applications Committee (CAC), which serves as oversight in passing data to the National Guard. Analysts within the California and Colorado National Guard assess the wildfire GEOINT data and create reports which are sent to wildfire dispatch centers. The program has received positive feedback from dispatch center personnel in both states. The multi-agency team recently expanded its focus beyond California and Colorado and is now providing reports on detected wildfires in Washington and Oregon. The team is working on using its capabilities to further support additional at-risk western states.

The system provides useful reporting on the most active portions of wildfires encroaching on or within the wildland-urban interface, especially in the initial phases of a fire where the situation may be confusing or not well understood. This information is critical for rapid assessment of dynamic situations to allow timely evacuation of residents and the protection of property and critical infrastructure.

Wildland fire (including wildfires and prescribed fires) can be beneficial in restoring historical forests, preserving old growth, increasing plant diversity and reducing hazardous fuels and wildfire risk. They can also be used to manage natural resources for the benefit of agriculture, ranching, forestry and wildlife management. However, unplanned wildfires are expensive to manage and can have massive impacts on human communities, causing economic disruption and the loss of homes, livelihoods and lives. Over the past two decades, the occurrence of extreme wildfires has escalated, which has resulted in significant increased risk to responders and citizens, home and property losses, costs and threats to communities and landscapes.

When fires occur, the USGS and its partners produce extensive data and tools for detecting, modelling and monitoring these fires. The USGS determines the health and safety implications from smoke and ash to structures and soils and develops new applications using emerging technology such as satellites. USGS science is also used to assess post-fire risks of water contamination, debris flow, and changes in land cover and ecosystems related to fire severity.

Additional resources:

  • Panel discussion on “The Power of Real-Time Data for Firefighting: https://trajectorymagazine.com/the-power-of-real-time-data-for-firefighting/
  • The USGS  provides 20-plus national geospatial databases, and ecological models that are important to wildland fire management:  https://www.landfire.gov/.
  • USGS fire science is fundamental to understanding the causes, consequences and benefits of wildfire and helps prevent and manage larger, catastrophic events: https://www.usgs.gov/special-topic/fire.
  • The USGS-hosted Civil Applications Committee oversees and facilitates the federal civilian agency use of various remote sensing technologies that were originally developed by the Department of Defense and intelligence community. For more information, please reach out to cac@usgs.gov.
LANDFIRE Fire Behavior Fuel Models

LANDFIRE Fire Behavior Fuel Models. (Public domain.)