Steps to Greatly Reducing the Number and Impact of Megafires

Data Science Lecture Series


November 6, 2015
1:00pm to 2:30pm
190 Doe Library
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Over the last decade, early detection of fires and very careful and well-managed responses to fires have become possible, although most improvements are still waiting to be implemented in a single system. Inspired by the Berkeley supernova searches, which I helped develop with Rich Muller and Saul Perlmutter, here, I suggest ways such technology might directly benefit Californians and others around the world. Developments in sensors, inexpensive basing of imagers in geosynchronous orbit, computational capabilities, growing databases of fire fuels and landscapes, telecommunication systems, unmanned aerial vehicles, and fire-simulation programs all are ready to be connected and work in synchrony. Such a system, which has been conceptually designed at UC Berkeley's Space Sciences Lab, Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, and the University of California San Diego's WIFIRE group, is called FUEGO: Fire Urgency Estimator on Geosynchronous Orbit. Our calculations indicate that small fires can be seen from space easily. Once a fire is lit, the growing fire holds the potential to then be managed and fought utilizing new the generation of databases, manned and unmanned sensors on airplanes and drones, telecommunication systems connecting all parties, and computer simulations running in real time to aid fire fighters in deploying their precious resources. Although there are many who are eager to help, the FUEGO system we describe in this talk seems to have gained acceptance by a number of key collaborators, and we are implementing aspects of this system now, beginning with tests of UAVs, manned aircraft, and imagers over prescribed burns, and we envision a data experiment in southern California this fall on real fires, pending funding. 

One of our funding plan is to team with UC Berkeley's crowd-funding system (see If you are interested, you can help fund the system when the campaign begins on September 15.


Carl Pennypacker

Affiliate, Lawrence Berkeley Lab, Physics Division

Carl Pennypacker is an astrophysicist and educator who has spent much of his career developing systems to search large quantities of data for small scientifically important signals. He helped lead the development of the Berkeley supernova searches and started the distant supernova searches, which led to evidence for an accelerating universe, and he was recognized by the Gruber and Breakthrough Prizes for the team, and other prizes for team members. He has helped develop a technology-mediated education system—“The Hands-On Universe”—which has helped train 30,000 teachers around the world in techniques of modern astrophysics, including modern image processing.  Most recently, he helped coordinate and lead the development of ideas and techniques for finding and stopping small wildfires before they become mega-fires through the FUEGO project.