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Remote Sensing in the Wildland-Urban Interface (WUI)

(National Institute of Standards and Technology Fire Research Grant 60NANB11D173)


Remote Sensing for Active-Fire Assessment in WUI and Wildland Environments

Remote sensing provides one of the best methods for assessment of the active fire environment.  Satellite base remote sensing of active fire information has occurred for some time.  The Landsat class series of sensors has resulted in opportunites for active fire detection (e.g. Schroeder et al., 2016).  The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) instrument and the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer imagery are currently used for active fire mapping in the US as portrayed in web map figure 1 below.

Web Map Figure 1:  MODIS hotspots for past twenty four hours (red dots) overlaid with current fire activity (orange and white fire symbol).

Higher resolution mapping of active wildland fire environments can be seen in the Wildfire Airborne Sensor Program (WASP) imagery. Animations presenting imagery acquired with the WASP sensor at the 2012 RxCadre research burns can be seen in the interactive web map figure 2 below. As can be seen through examination of these images fire behavior varied greatly within the area. This highlights the need for integrated measures including pre-fire measures of vegetation. Nonetheless, the WASP data can also be calibrated to provide quantitative fire radiation measurements across a fire. The WASP sensor also provides NADIR views of the scene so distortions due to oblique angles are not an issue. Temporal resolution of the WASP sensor provides repeat coverage but there are delays between acquisitions of the same area that are dependent on the mission specifications as the plane must typically fly outside the burn area to make turns to re-image the area.

Web Map Figure 2:  WASP Imagery from 2012 RxCadre prescribed burns.

Quantitative fire radiation measures can also be acquired using remote sensing and sensors mounted on booms, at oblique angles from the fire.  An example of this type of remote sensing data was also collected at the 2012 RxCadre research burns.  A complete data set from RxCadre for potential fire model integration and evaluation was not available on the Untited States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Data Archive for use with this project by 2014.  Consequently, the Camp Swift Research Burns were used as a study site for this project due to availablity of data for this area in 2014.

Video from helicopters collected with a local government sensor was also used in study of the 2011 Texas Tanglewood Fire (Maranghides and McNamara, 2016).  This imagery portrayed fire behavior in vegetation and burning times of structures.  The fire behavior recorded with this sensor, however, was only possible after the higher intensity fire behavior had passed, though some relatively high intensity fire behavior was recorded as discussed in Maranghides and McNamara (2016).  The helicopter video also only provides qualitative information with no measures of fire radiation.  Nonetheless, the fire behavior portrayed in this video as shown in Figure 50 of Maranghides and McNamara did identify changes in fire behavior based on changes in fuels and topographic position relative to predominant wind direction.

Ground based remote sensing can also beused for capturing key information about WUI and wildland fires.  For example, the YouTube™ Video shown to the right was used to reconstruct the timeline of burning features for study of the Waldo Canyon Fire.  This video was recorded by a private citizen from a topographically advantegous position.  Despite the usefulness of this video in reconstruction certain aspects of the Waldo Canyon Fire, private citizens recording fire scenes is an inherently dangerous and not recommended activity.  Professional recording of fire scenes such as conducted by Steven Schopper of the Colorado Springs Fire Department is the appropriate option.  Additionally, with the prevelent use of mobile devices it is recommended that standards be developed and systems in place for fire fighters to properly image fire scenes during breaks, reconnaisance or other appropriate times. 

YouTube™ Video of Ground Based Remote Sensing at WUI Fire.

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