South Dakota’s state fire meteorologist is part of a coalition using satellite technology to notify fire managers when fuels are abnormally dry.
Darren Clabo, a research scientist and instructor at the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology, is collaborating with colleagues from other scientific agencies including NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to create a tool called Fire Risk Estimation 2.0, or FiRE, the Rapid City Journal reported .
The tool analyzes drought, high-resolution fuel and precipitation conditions to produce a fire-danger assessment map that land managers and firefighters can monitor daily. The tool will first be put to use in Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota, but could become more widely used in coming years.
The device was first developed during the spring of 2017, several months before the Legion Lake fire burst out of Custer State Park in December 2017. Clabo said the second version of the tool shows potential to produce warnings about fuel conditions.
“The biggest concerns we have for monitoring wildfires is assessing the status of fuels,” Clabo said. “Right now, it’s really difficult to determine fuel dryness on a sub-county scale. The FiRE tool uses satellite data to give our first responders a leg up on suppressing fires as quickly as possible.”
The device was funded with subsidies from the NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information and NASA DEVELOP, with partnerships from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
The Legion Lake fire – the third-largest wildfire in Black Hills history – began on Dec. 11, 2017, when a tree fell onto an overhead electricity line in Custer State Park. There was no snow cover in the immediate area, and dry fire fuels in the form of dormant vegetation were among several factors that contributed to the fire’s growth.
By the time the fire was fully contained on Dec. 19, 2017, it had spread out of Custer State Park into Wind Cave National Park and onto privately owned land.