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A Technological Edge on Wildfires

Firefighters cross an area burned by a wildfire.

Even as wildfires become increasingly frequent and dangerous, technology increasingly helps firefighters combat the problem.

Credit: Tom Tingle/Associated Press

As global warming makes wildfires increasingly frequent and dangerous, technology is helping to combat the problem.

For example, the U.S. Forest Service uses computer simulations of fires to study the impact of different weather patterns, topography, and vegetation. "You would sort of get a map that depicts a likelihood of fire occurrence," says the Forest Service's Elizabeth Reinhardt.

In addition, weather satellites record information such as data on forming thunderstorms, which can precede dangerous high winds. Remote-controlled unmanned aircraft provide infrared photographs showing a fire's area, which can be transmitted to firefighters' mobile devices.

"That information could all be available on mobile devices in real time so folks could reference that periodically as they’re out in the field fighting the fire," says the Forest Service's Tim Sexton.

The Forest Service has experimented successfully with mobile devices in the past and this summer will conduct a pilot program with Android tablets. Firefighters use a range of off-the-shelf software and customized applications, and the Forest Service intends to adopt cloud computing to improve access to computer models and databases.

However, the largest obstacle remains gaining Internet access at every fire, and one option would be an ad hoc mesh network that enables firefighters to share information.

From The New York Times
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