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Alaska uses Quickbird imagery for fire response

DigitalGlobe announced that its QuickBird satellite images were recently used by the State of Alaska’s Forestry Division to help firefighters navigate wildfires. Fires began blazing through forested areas about 80 miles south of Fairbanks on May 26 and have since been contained. The 60-centimeter resolution black-and-white QuickBird(tm) images, collected in August 2002, show trails and roads, building structures and fire prone vegetation. Firefighters used the images for locational mapping to determine where endangered structures existed, which residents should be evacuated, where emergency personnel should be dispatched and where firelines should be constructed.

Large print-outs of the QuickBird images were posted on fire department dispatch walls so fire dispatches could quickly map out response routes, while smaller copies were distributed to division supervisors for key emergency personnel as they were dispatched to fight fires.
Wildfires are a common occurrence in the interior of Alaska, where black spruce trees, an extremely fire prone species, are abundant. The 2.44-meter resolution, multi-spectral QuickBird images were used to identify black spruce as well as trails and ponds. In the past, Alaska firefighters had relied on one-inch-to-the-mile quadrangle maps to help them navigate their way around an area during a fire. The quad maps do not indicate trails, roads, structures, vegetation such as black spruce, and many other features important to firefighters. QuickBird imagery, by contrast, depicts these details.

The Alaska DNR started acquiring QuickBird data in May 2002 to provide basic mapping services for several of the state’s local communities. The image products of the Fairbanks area provide a critical resource for emergency service organizations in support of a project called “Community Fire Planning Using GIS,” funded by the National Fire Planning Initiative.

In addition, QuickBird imagery covering an 11,475 square-mile area in Alaska’s Tanana Valley supports a NASA grant the state won in 2001. A long-term goal of the NASA proposal is the development of base data necessary to support fire behavior software that predicts wildfire spread. The project will include the creation of a database of fuel models based on vegetation mapping to help the Division of Forestry identify fire prone areas, calculate rates of spread and demonstrate parameters associated with fire spread such as fuel types, weather and wind speed.