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State Of Alaska Uses QuickBird Satellite Imagery for Fire Response 06.20.2003

June 20, 2003
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Images help identify structures threatened and damaged by wildfires.

DigitalGlobe announced that its QuickBird satellite images were recently used by the State of Alaska's Forestry Division to help firefighters navigate wildfires. Fires began blazing through forested areas about 80 miles south of Fairbanks on May 26 and have since been contained.

The 60-centimeter resolution black-and-white QuickBird images, collected in August 2002, show trails and roads, building structures and fire prone vegetation. Firefighters used the images for locational mapping to determine where endangered structures existed, which residents should be evacuated, where emergency personnel should be dispatched and where firelines should be constructed.

Large print-outs of the QuickBird images were posted on fire department dispatch walls so fire dispatches could quickly map out response routes, while smaller copies were distributed to division supervisors for key emergency personnel as they were dispatched to fight fires.

According to Marc Lee, Fairbanks Area forester for the Alaska Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Forestry Division, the QuickBird images proved to be critical resource for quick responses by the Division of Forestry and cooperating fire departments. "Using the images, we were able to better locate threatened structures and improve our deployment of firefighting forces. We identified several structures and one house that had been destroyed," said Lee.

"We also added power line coverages in a geographic information system (GIS) so we would know which power lines were threatened and where to turn off electricity, so firefighters' lives wouldn't be endangered," Lee added.

Wildfires are a common occurrence in the interior of Alaska, where black spruce trees, an extremely fire prone species, are abundant. The 2.44-meter resolution, multispectral QuickBird images were used to identify black spruce as well as trails and ponds. In the past, Alaska firefighters had relied on one-inch-to-the-mile quadrangle maps to help them navigate their way around an area during a fire. The quad maps do not indicate trails, roads, structures, vegetation such as black spruce, and many other features important to firefighters. QuickBird imagery, by contrast, depicts these details.

"Using the imagery, one can see which ponds helicopters can access for dipping buckets, where firelines should be constructed, which creeks to set a back burn from, and which trails a light fire engine can navigate," explained Lee.

The Alaska DNR started acquiring QuickBird data in May 2002 to provide basic mapping services for several of the state's local communities. The image products of the Fairbanks area provide a critical resource for emergency service organizations in support of a project called "Community Fire Planning Using GIS," funded by the National Fire Planning Initiative.

In addition, QuickBird imagery covering an 11,475 square-mile area in Alaska's Tanana Valley supports a NASA grant the state won in 2001. A long-term goal of the NASA proposal is the development of base data necessary to support fire behavior software that predicts wildfire spread. The project will include the creation of a database of fuel models based on vegetation mapping to help the Division of Forestry identify fire prone areas, calculate rates of spread and demonstrate parameters associated with fire spread such as fuel types, weather and wind speed.

"Threat from wildfire is an annual danger faced by Alaska's towns and villages. During the last decade in the Tanana Valley, numerous wildfires consumed valuable resources and threatened and destroyed people's properties and homes," said Lee. "Coupled with this challenge, Alaska's large size and remote access severely limits the traditional ground intensive mapping approach. Knowledge and management of forest fuels, community facilities and transportation systems are essential to minimize fire losses and maximize fire protection.

"Because of its high-resolution and accuracy, QuickBird is perhaps the only practical solution to solving this mapping dilemma and providing resources for emergency service organizations," Lee concluded.

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