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FAO launches NASA-developed fire monitoring system

Will help countries to detect fire hotspots in real time

Photo: ©FAO/Florita Botts
GFIMS will help countries to detect fire hotspots in near real time.

11 August 2010, Rome - FAO today has launched a new online portal on fire information and real time monitoring to help countries to control fire effectively and protect property and natural resources. The new Global Fire Information Management System (GFIMS) detects fire hotspots from satellites operated by the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

Developed in collaboration with the University of Maryland, GFIMS has an online mapping interface for displaying fire hotspots in "near real" time meaning that there is a lag of approximately 2.5 hours between satellite overpass and the data being available. The new system also allows users to receive email alerts on specific areas of interest, enabling subscribers to react quickly.

"The GFIMS has been launched at a time when the incidence of megafires tends to increase," said Pieter van Lierop, FAO Forestry Officer, who is responsible for the agency's activities in fire management.

"The control of these fires has become an issue of high importance, not only because of the increasing number of casualties and the huge amounts of area burned but also because of the relations with issues of global interest, like climate change."

In Russia alone this year due to the unprecedented heat wave with temperatures soaring to up to 40ºC and winds of up to 20 metres per second the total area burned has reached more than 14 million hectares, according to the data provided by the Sukachev Institute for Forests, based in Krasnoyarsk. Forest fires in Russia have already killed more than 50 people this summer.

Globally, vegetation fires affect an estimated 350 million ha of land each year- about half or more of this area is burnt in Africa. In the Mediterranean, between 700 000 and one million hectares are damaged by vegetation fires every year.

Easy to use


Until recently, natural resource managers have faced considerable challenges in obtaining timely satellite-derived information on vegetation fires.

"The information was very fragmented because it was gathered from various sources making it unsuitable for precise analysis and identifying trends," - said John Latham, FAO Senior Environment Officer in the Natural Resources Management and Environment Department. - "GFIMS is an integrated fire information system which delivers the essential data to its users while the fires are still burning."

GFIMS allows users to download fire information in minimal file sizes and in easy-to-use formats, including text files, ESRI shapefiles, Web Map Services, Google Earth/KML files, and a plug-in for NASA World Wind.

"GFIMS has also provoked strong research interest," added Latham. "Linking the system to land cover shows us what is burning. GFIMS now provides analysis on trends of prevalence of fire by year and month, and will include information on the size of burnt area by land cover type in the future. It will result in improving analytical data and timely response."

The system could be used by forest managers and fire fighters, as well as agencies involved in agricultural and natural resources monitoring. The subscription is free of charge. The system only requires a functioning email address. Initially GFIMS has been launched in three languages - English, French and Spanish. The monitoring system is hosted at the FAO's Natural Resources Management and Environment Department.