Satellites are tracing Europe's forest fire scars

Last year's long hot summer was a bumper year for forest fires, with more than half a million hectares of woodland destroyed across Mediterranean Europe. So far this year fresh fires have occurred across Portugal, Spain and southern France, with 2500 people evacuated from blazes in foothills north of Marseille. According to the European Commission, each hectare of forest lost to fire costs Europe's economy between a thousand and 5000 Euros.

The distinctive 'burn scars' left across the land by forest fires can be identified from space as a specific reddish-brown spectral signature from a false-colour composite of spectral bands from optical sensors in the short wavelength infrared, near infrared and visible channels.

A new ESA-backed, Earth Observation-based service is making use of this fact, employing satellite imagery from SPOT and Landsat to automatically detect the 2004 burn scars within fire-prone areas of the Entente region of Southwest France, within the Puglia and Marche regions of Italy and across the full territory of Spain.

Burn scar detection is planned to take place on a seasonal basis, identifying fires covering at least one hectare to a standard resolution of 30 metres, with detailed damage assessment available to a maximum resolution of 2.5 metres using the SPOT 5 satellite.

Partner users include Italy's National Civil Protection Department, Spain's Direccin general para la Biodiversidad a directorate of the Environment Ministry that supports regional fire-fighting activities with more than 50 aircraft operating from 33 airbases as well as France's National Department of Civil Protection (DDSC) and the country's Centre D'Essais Et De Recherce de l'Entente (CEREN), the test and research centre of the government organisation tasked with combating forest fires, known as the Entente Interdpartementale.

"To cope with fire disasters, the most affected Departments in the south of France have decided to join

Contact: Mariangela D'Acunto
European Space Agency

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