The Yosemite Rim fire (Facebook and Twitter), continues to burn, threatening 4,500 structures, reports USA Today. The nation’s largest active forest fire continued to burn at the edge of Yosemite National Park Monday, reaching 234 square miles and prompting multiple mandatory and advisory evacuations in the area.
At least 4,500 structures are threatened, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
The Yosemite Rim Fire in the central Sierra Nevada region of California, started on August 17, 2013, and is “one of the largest in recent California history”, after burning nearly 150,000 acres (230 sq mi).
California governor Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency for the city of San Francisco and San Francisco County on August, 23, after the fire caused damage to the power infrastructure serving the Bay Area and threatened the Hetch Hetchy reservoir, the main source of water of San Francisco.
Their Command Center trailers, equipped with a satellite terminals, provide vital communication services to connect airborne attack and ground teams, hotshot units along with the U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management and city and county fire agencies.
Many developed areas of the park—Wawona, Crane Flat, Hodgdon Meadows, Hetch-Hetchy, and Tuolumne Meadows—are serviced by old telephone wires; employees therefore rely on time-consuming dial-up modems for computer network and internet access, and many types of data cannot be transferred.
The California National Guard deployed a Predator drone, allowing ground commanders to keep an eye out for new fires they otherwise wouldn’t have immediately seen. Previously, officials relied on helicopters that needed to refuel every two hours.
Use of the Predator will be the longest sustained mission by a drone in California. It will remain over the burn zone for up to 22 hours at a time, allowing fire commanders to monitor fire activity, determine the fire’s direction of movement, the extent of containment and confirm new fires ignited by lightning or flying embers.
The drone is being flown by the 163rd Wing of the California National Guard at March Air Reserve Base in Riverside and is operating from Victorville Airport, both in Southern California. It generally flew over unpopulated areas on its 300-mile flight to the Rim Fire. Outside the fire area, it will be escorted by a manned aircraft.
In 2009 a NASA Predator equipped with an infrared imaging sensor helped the U.S. Forest Service assess damage from a fire in Angeles National Forest. In 2008, a drone capable of detecting hot spots helped firefighters assess movement of a series of wildfires stretching from Southern California’s Lake Arrowhead to San Diego.
Oregon is no stranger to large wildfires. The four fires of the Tillamook Burn (1933, 1939, 1945, and 1951) collectively burned 642,000 acres. In 2002, the Biscuit Fire was the largest in the Nation, burning nearly 500,000 acres and cost over $150 million to extinguish.
The National Interagency Fire Center focuses on daily wildland fire activity and other all-risk incidents throughout the country.
For remote firefighting, a satphone could be a lifesaver, and nothing would be better than the military’s $6 billion MUOS satellite platform.
The 2nd Mobile User Objective Satellite was launched from Cape Kennedy on July 19. MUOS-2 is a UHF mobile phone satellite system, and operates primarily in the 300 MHz band. The $6 billion MUOS program might save lives and millions of dollars, but the DOD would likely be loath to use it for civilian applications, even if they could (it’s located at 179 degrees).
Inmarsat’s I-4 series of satellites, on the other hand, can generate 19 wide beams and more than 200 narrow spot-beams. SwiftBroadband delivers an IP-based packet-switched service offering with ‘always-on’ data at up to 432kbps per channel. It can also provide IP streaming at various rates up to a full channel. Inmarsat’s isatphone can deliver up to 20kbps.
FirstNet’s LTE radios might enable ground forces to upload and download pictures, maps and videos. But not for 5-10 years. Remote broadband will remain a challenge.
Meanwhile, private contractors will likely save the day in situations like these.