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GIS Mapping Techologies Helping to Fight Wildfires

Posted by Barbara Fordyce on

When it comes to wildfire management, there's an extraordinary range of map related resources available.  GIS is being used to anticipate fires, fight fires, study past fires and save lives, especially the lives of backcountry firefighters.

US Government Provides Loads of Resources

USGS hosts a number of sites with general information for management and rescue agencies.  You'll find a predictive map showing fire danger across the country, plus a map showing active fires.

GeoMAC is unique government resource that gives fire managers near real-time information on the fire perimeter. Data is collected from incident intelligence sources, GPS, and infrared imagery from fixed wing and satellite platform, and the data is updated daily.  GeoMAC allows users in remote locations to zoom in and out to display fire information at various scales and detail, and print hard copy maps for use in fire information and media briefings, dispatch offices and coordination centers.


Mapping and Backcountry Firefighting

There are loads of ways that maps can be helpful in a backcountry fire where accurate, detailed information is key to success.  Next to the chainsaw and head lamp, the most relied upon item for a backcountry firefighter might be the device that gives them access to USGS topo maps or Avenza PDF maps.  Knowing the extent of an area, the terrain, trails and vegetation makes for safer and more effective firefighting.














And to help show the actual conditions a fire crew is facing, other state-of-the-art resources are now in development. In 2017, FireWhat and Esri joined up to bring drones into the firefight.  Because of the difficulty in flying airplanes though smoke-filled skies, drones offer an attractive alternative for collecting data without putting pilots at risk. Drones will soon bring up-to-the-minute actionable information on terrain, brush, wind, and fire to firefighters.

Planning for Escape

Researchers at the University of Utah are working on an interesting tool to help fire fighters find the best escape route from a burning area.

The goal of this project is to identify the best map escape options for backcountry fire fighters from an aerial perspective. Using LIDAR technology (Light Detection and Ranging), researchers analyzed the terrain slope, ground surface roughness and vegetation density of a fire-prone region in central Utah, and assessed how each landscape condition impeded a person’s ability to travel.  Volunteers were timed walking 22 paths with a variety of slopes, ground surface roughness and vegetation densities, and researchers used this info to determine likely travel rates.

By accounting for the effect of slope, ground surface roughness and vegetation density on travel rates researchers successfully identified the most efficient routes from a variety of situations in the study area.

Geospatial and Remote Sensing

For an interesting peek into the use of remote sensing and firefighting, check out this interview with Kate Dargan.  Dargan worked in the firefighting field for 30 years, and was the first woman to be named State Fire Marshall in California.  She now heads up the Interra Group, which provides innovative geospatial and remote sensing solutions to first responders.

We can look forward to useful innovative technologies to aid in the serious business of firefighting.  Which is a very good thing, since the problem of wildfires promises to worsen in the future.

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