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By Bob Valen 

Technology vs. wildland fire

Weather Watcher


Last updated 7/8/2020 at 8:30am

We know all too well the complete destruction that wildfires can cause. Over the past several years we’ve witnessed numerous, nearby, destructive wildfires. We are not immune to the outcome of wildfire. Can we better suppress and understand wildfire and the elements that comprise wildfire? The answer is probably yes. The past few decades, engineers, scientists and wildfire managers have collaborated to jointly create new tools and techniques to better fight and understand wildfire.

My first exposure to cutting-edge technology in wildfire fighting happened in 1988. I was assigned to the Joint Command office in West Yellowstone, Montana, during the Yellowstone National Park fires. The National Aeronautical and Space Administration (NASA) began assisting with direct, on-site support. They brought remote sensing receiving equipment to our location. Once set up, remote-sensing, high-altitude aircraft, from Ames Research Center in California, flew over the Yellowstone region at night. The thermal infrared data gathered from those night flights was captured in real time and interpreted within a few hours. This level of direct support was a first and did help with some of the fire suppression efforts.

Up Canada way, development is underway to build a satellite to assist fire fighters. The Great Lakes Forestry Centre in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, Canada, is developing a satellite that will monitor and relay information about fires to crews on the ground in real time. Current satellite data requires a lot of time to retrieve and interpret. Having eyes in space with real time wildfire information will greatly improve response time and provide data on fire behavior and movement. The proposed satellite, WildfireSat, is estimated to cost about $50 million and is the size of a washing machine. The forestry center is working in collaboration with the Canadian Space Agency, the Canadian Forest Service and Environmental Canada. It’s expected to launch in 2025. Here’s hoping the United States will have access too.

Having real time information about a wildfire is well and good, while a fire is burning. We need a quantified understanding of the many factors and conditions that may lead to potential wildfires. The tragic results of the 2018 Camp Fire in Northern California brought together a team of engineers and scientists. Their five-year project is to develop an all-inclusive, universal, computational live, digital platform to predict and monitor wildfire risk. This new effort is spearheaded by Hamed Abrahamian from the College of Engineering at University of Nevada, Reno. “He assembled a multi-institutional group of researchers with a similar desire to use science and technology to reduce the chances that the world would suffer from another wildfire of the Camp Fire magnitude,” according to an article from

According to the article, Abrahamian further says, “This can help reduce the risk of fires but the risk can never be eliminated. Our objective is to develop a systematic framework to quantify the risk of wildfires to wildland-urban-interface communities in terms of the total probability of loss. The risk, thus, depends, on one hand, on the characteristics of the community, its structure, and location and, on the other hand, on the wildland and the factors affecting the fire ignition and spread, such as topography, climate conditions, fuel type and moisture. Now, we want to have the capability to combine all these factors and predict the seasons-months ahead to weeks-days-ahead risk for different communities and regions.”

Here’s the recap of weather results for the month of June 2020. All measurements are from my home weather station. The high temperature was 94˚F on the 26th, and the low was 43.2˚ on the 2nd. The mean temperature was 65.4˚. The all-time high was set in 2015 at 105˚. The all-time low of 36˚ occurred in 2008. The all-time mean for June is 65.6˚. Rainfall for June was 1.76 inches. The mean for the month is 1.03 inches and the wettest June was in 1937 with 4.29 inches of rain. The driest June was in 2003 with only 0.04 inches.


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