NASA UAV finds fire hot spots

Thermal-infrared imaging sensors on NASA's Ikhana UAV recorded this image of the Harris Fire in San Diego County Oct. 24, with hot spots along the ridgeline in left center clearly visible.

NASA

High-tech sensors on an unmanned aerial vehicle flown remotely by pilots based at NASA'S Dryden Flight Research Center are providing thermal-infrared imagery to help firefighters find and eliminate lingering hot spots in burned-over areas of Southern California.

Ikhana, a modified Predator-B UAV, took off for a nine-hour mission yesterday morning, NASA said. The aircraft, originally built by General Atomics Aeronautical Systems to support military intelligence and attack missions, has been retooled for civil science and research work.

Ikhana carried the Autonomous Modular Scanner payload, according to a statement by NASA Dryden. That sensor suite includes a sophisticated imaging unit and real-time data communications modules developed by NASA's Ames Research Center at Moffett Field.

The sensor can peer through thick smoke and haze to pinpoint hot spots and monitor the progression of wildfires during its lengthy loiter period over an area.

Fire analysts then overlay the data on Google Earth maps and transfer it in near-real time to the Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho, which provides it to fire incident commanders, the agency said.

Remote sensing analyst Tom Zajkowski of the U.S. Forest Service is working on-site at the Witch Fire, one of many in the stricken region. NASA cited his view that the UAV imagery shows how much fire there actually is as compared with visual or other indicators.

Users in the field are very pleased with the Ikhana imagery as real data, Zajkowski added in a statement. "The imagery is showing how effective burnout operations are, i.e. hidden hot spots after fire has passed by."

The California Office of Emergency Services and the National Interagency Fire Center requested the UAV data, NASA said. The ground-based pilots coordinate their aircraft's route with the Federal Aviation Administration to maintain safety for other planes and helicopters.

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