Fire... it brings light, warmth and hope... and terror... A forest fire is a massive wall of heat and flame. Driven by high winds, it can leap across roads, spin into columns of fire and turn homes to ash.
But every year, around the world, men and women walk into the fire to save the forest, the homes, the people. They are wildfire fighters and they engage in one of the world’s hardest jobs — wildfire fighting.
Working 16 hours a day for two or more weeks straight, they go without showers or regular meals,and they sleep on the ground.
Most of all — in that same unforgiving ground — they dig. Water simply isn’t enough to fight forest fires — they are too massive for that to suppress the roaring flames.
Firefighters unleash their shovels, their saws and their axes and their additional fire fighting implements and do what they can, digging trenches and burning brush to keep fuel away from the ravenous fire. And so, they continue to dig, to cut and saw as they fight this forest consuming monster.
This is a highly dangerous job. An average of 19 American wildfire fighters perish in the flames of forest flames each year.
Fighting Fires Via Satellite
To save forest and homes and lives — including their own — firefighters turn to satellite technology for assistance.
Weather data from space provides accurate forecasts of conditions on the ground. Satellite image data helps fire commanders see where the fires are and these images makes it possible for artificial intelligence (AI) to predict the course of the fire. However, all the knowledge in the world can’t be of assistance unless that data reaches the firefighters on the front lines.
As Tim Dunfee, Deputy Fire Chief at the Angles National Forest in California, put it, “When you hit the forest boundary, all cellular communications essentially go dead. Even our typical satphone devices have a hard time getting out up there. And I was just amazed we were able to drive to Chantry Flat, which is shadowed by geography in almost all directions and pick up the iPhone. To have a device where essentially they turn the inverter on, hit a power button and within a couple of minutes, it’s ready to go. That’s priceless.”
A company named Kymeta produces a satellite terminal that mounts easily on the roof of cars or at a base camp. With the push of a button, the Kymeta u8 terminal powers up and connects to a satellite, without the need for any specialized training.
The u8 provides a local Wi-Fi signal that enables commanders and firefighters use their phones, tablets and laptops to analyze conditions. The cost of the terminal and required connectivity are bundled into a single package and that makes the terminal easy to use and affordable.
A Better Chance Of Survival
What does that Wi-Fi connection mean to a firefighter? A better chance of beating the blaze, as crews can coordinate their work, even when they are far apart from one another. A better chance of survival, by warning the firefighters about areas where the fires are spreading. A chance to connect with home to let their loved ones know they’re safe.
You may live far from the areas where forests catch fire — but you can’t escape their impact. In the most recent season, wildfires burned more than 10 million acres of the American West and sent smoke spiraling into the atmosphere as far as Europe.
Australia lost 46 million acres to wildfires and those fires put as much ash into the air as a volcanic eruption.
A heat wave in Siberia drove massive fires that filled the atmosphere with more than 244 million tons of carbon.
The u8 terminal is transforming how we predict and fight fires. Along with thousands more satellites poised to launch, once on-orbit, satellites help to turn terror into hope — for the forest, the firefighters... and for all of us.
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