FUEGO: The Fire Urgency Estimator on Geosynchronous Orbit:
Aiding Early Detection and Management of Wildland Fires with a small Satellite Imager

Carl Pennypacker

Wildland fires, particularly at the urban-wilderness interface, are an increasing financial burden on nations, and costs of fighting fires has increased. Rapid detection and alerting of a ready aerial tanker fleet and ground firefighter forces holds the potential to significantly reduce the cost to society for some fires. For example, FUEGO may have been able to detect (under study) the infrared signal from the 1991 Oakland hills fire, which smoldered over night undetected, killed 25 people, destroyed 3000 homes, and resulted in $1.5 billion in damages. US annual firefighting costs have increased a factor of about 8x over the last 25 years, to more than $2 billion a year. Time to respond and be "on-scene has always been the primary criteria for gaining control over a wildfire. Damage increases exponentially with delays in applying fire suppression methods. Responding to these threats, we have assembled a team of space scientists,physicists, fire scientists, geographical system experts, entrepreneurs, and other key collaborators to begin the study, design and testing of ideas that could lead to FUEGO. Our preliminary studies indicate that FUEGO could see a 10 square meter fire on earth from geosynchronous orbit, against daytime solar backgrounds. In addition, it appears that FUEGO would probably not be overwhelmed with background events, although more detailed studies are urgently needed. In this talk, I describe some background on fires, our ideas for FUEGO, and next steps in FUEGO's development.