Satellite fire-detection system launched in Spain

10th July 2008, Comments 0 comments

The new fire-detection system can spot any unusual rise in temperature on the surface of the land using infrared technology.

10 July 2008

MADRID - A point lights up on the map of Spain in the emergency room of Protección Civil, Spain's emergency coordination service. The satellite has picked up a hot spot at Gaucín, near Málaga. Technicians check it out: not a false alarm, but a real fire.

They call a local government office to see whether it is under control.

Meanwhile, a computer program has combined dozens of variables to produce a simulation of how the fire is likely to advance, minute by minute, without action being taken. Fortunately the fire was controlled before extending into the whole risk zone.

This happened last Wednesday, one of the first times this summer that the service's new satellite fire-detection system has been put into action.

In 2007, it was being tested, and for a few days now has been fully functional, together with the fire-simulation program, which was started up this week.

The satellite Meteosat can spot any abnormal rise in temperature on the surface of the land using infrared technology. There are some false alarms, as on Thursday in a steel plant in Asturias, but when a point lights up on the map it usually means a fire.

"It's an early-detection system, to mobilise state services such as the Emergency Military Unit, in case they are necessary," says José María García of Protección Civil.

The satellite sends a message every 15 minutes, with a margin of error of three kilometres.

Technicians then enter the Meteosat location coordinates into the program, and within 15 seconds, the system has combined ambient temperature, wind speed and direction, slopes, humidity, the type of combustible material in the zone (scrub, forest, degree of dryness) with a number of other factors, and projects the probable advance of the fire on the screen. Towns, highways, gas stations, and so on, also appear on the screen to show the time available for evacuation, if necessary.

This system is supplementary to the nationwide fire risk bulletins published twice daily on the public information page.

It is also additional to the system for follow-up of fire prevention resources, indicating the nationwide distribution of firefighting equipment, such as planes and helicopters.

During the first days of July, the new system has been detecting a few hot spots each day, which are usually small fires.

So far this has not been a problem summer - unlike the summer of 2005, when at one point half the forest fires in Europe were burning in Spain, and the year-end balance amounted to over 172,000 hectares of forest and scrub land burnt.

This year, abundant rain has delayed the high fire risk period, says Carlos Dueña of the fire service. But this has a negative aspect. "All the grass that has grown high with the rain is now drying, and will soon be easily combustible."

[El Pais / Pablo Linde / Expatica]

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