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Satellites, drones, aircrafts: the next phrase of wildfire detection?




A firefighting airplane flies above the Holy Fire as it burns in Cleveland National Forest on August 8, 2018 in Corona, California. The fire has burned at least 6,200 acres and destroyed twelve structures.
A firefighting airplane flies above the Holy Fire as it burns in Cleveland National Forest on August 8, 2018 in Corona, California. The fire has burned at least 6,200 acres and destroyed twelve structures.
Mario Tama/Getty Images

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Thousands of firefighters are battling the largest fire in California history.

The Mendocino Complex fire prompted evacuations and is putting a lot of lives and structures in danger. In some areas, firefighters are having trouble accessing the blaze safely due to brush and dense timber. Last October, the Tubbs Fire was the most destructive before the Mendocino Complex fire broke. The wildfires translated into loss of life, property damage and destruction.

Now, an astrophysicist from the University of California, Berkeley, wants to change that. Carl Pennypacker is leading a team of researchers in developing a multilayered system to detect wildfires before they spread. The Fire Urgency Estimator in Geosynchronous Orbit system, known as Fuego, consists of geosynchronous satellites, aerial drones, piloted aircraft and fire towers. It is equipped with high-tech sensors and infrared cameras designed to spot wildfires in less than two minutes instead of the current average time of half-hour.

But the system comes with challenges. The satellite alone would cost up to $300 million to build and place in orbit. Some fire experts are skeptical. Witness reports, they say, have been effective in detecting fires where 95 percent of all wildfires are quickly contained.

We talk to fire experts about Fuego and its potential usability.  

Guests:

Carl Pennypacker, astrophysicist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory at UC Berkeley, who is leading a team of researchers working to develop a system that would detect a fire before it spreads

Mike Mohler, deputy director of communications for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire)

Jessica Gardetto, spokesperson for the National Interagency Fire Center, a government agency in Boise, Idaho, that serves as a focal point for coordinating the national mobilization of resources for wildland fire and other incidents throughout the United States