Satellite tracking could help fight forest fires

Satellite tracking could help fight forest fires

14 April 2011

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Russia — The fire season is upon us again. Memories of last summer’s smoke and flames are still with the Russian public but a new online map hopes to chart the progress of forest fires and keep the public safe and sound.

Posted on the emergencies’ ministry’s website and regularly updated it has the potential to beat the smoke and damp the flames of public discontent, which are still wafting down the corridors of power from last year’s flaming fiasco.

Nevertheless, battle-hardened volunteers from last year suspect that the confusion and lack of coordination which caused last year’s troubles are still in the wind.

Out in the open

“In general I think the website is a good idea but equally people have already been working on a website using the same technology for a while and it would have been more logical if the ministry had approached these people so that they could cooperate and work together,” Anastasia Severina, Karta Pomoshchi (Help Map) volunteers’ coordinator, told The Moscow News.

“It is good that they are using this space photographing technology and publicising it because now they won’t be able to suppress information,” she added.

How it works

“Satellite pictures are marked with thermally generated images, including controlled and preventative undergrowth burning for agriculture, the illegal burning of dry grass, campfires and burning rubbish tips,” the ministry’s press service said in a statement, RIA Novosti reported.

“The pressing question of the moment is flooding peatlands and a large budget, a million roubles, has already been put aside for this purpose. We are following the situation with satellite images, which reflect where the epicentres of the fires are,” assured Alexander Krai, head of the emergencies ministry Central Region office, a report on the public chamber’s news portal said.

The peat bogs dried out last summer, creating a tinderbox which duly burst into flame, engulfing swathes of the country in choking smog.

And recent reports suggest that the problem has not gone away, raising fears of another long, hot summer.

Fiddling while Russia burns?

Fancy technology is all well and good but Severina says that what is really needed is proper coordination, and there are at least some nods in this direction.

“The emergencies ministry has realised that there is a very important aspect to their work, this is volunteer labour…Systematic cooperation must exist and not just within the ministry… There should also be staff to coordinate volunteers,” Elena Topoleva-Soldunova, a member of the Public Chamber wrote.

And Severina is reasonably optimistic about the progress that this is making, “On Monday we, Karta Pomoshchi, Greenpeace, the satellite company and others are meeting the ministry. It’s great that they invited us to this meeting because last year they did not react to anyone’s alerts.

“We asked for a meeting last year but got no response,” she said by telephone.

There are now moves to coordinate both Karta Pomoshchi’s and the ministry’s website and this should help improve coordination, Severina hopes.

“The main thing when you are fighting fires is to react as soon as possible. Sometimes there are places where the flames are fading away, so you don’t need 10 fire engines to extinguish them,” but at other times urgent action is required and this at times was not taken, she said.

“When the fires are approaching inhabited areas you need to react as soon as possible,” she added.

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