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Nasa is developing new tech to help fight wildfires

NASA FireSat
NASA's FireSat network.

Wildfires can have devastating effects on both natural landscapes and the people who live near them, and Nasa is working on new technology to help curb the threat of these blazes.

The system is based around a series of orbiting satellites known as FireSat, which use infrared scanning technology to identify wildfires when they're between 35-50 feet wide, and can alert authorities to a fire around 15 minutes after it's started.

By catching a wildfire at such an early stage, emergency services have a much better chance of limiting its spread, mobilising quickly to minimise the impact on surrounding vegetation and homes.

Wildfire watching

The technology, developed by Nasa's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, builds on existing wildfire detection systems but adds a much higher level of sensitivity and accuracy. The plan is to get it fully operational by 2018.

"While many wildfires are reported by 911 calls soon after ignition, some are not, and delays in detection can lead to rapid escalation of a fire, and dramatic growth of the cost of suppression," says Robert Staehle, the project's lead designer.

When finished, the system should work day and night to locate fires anywhere in the world.

David Nield

Dave is a freelance tech journalist who has been writing about gadgets, apps and the web for more than two decades. On TechRadar you'll find him covering news, features and reviews, particularly for phones, tablets and wearables.