Another tool in the toolbox: satellite imagery

Large fires can result in towering columns of heat which can be detected from satellite platforms. These platforms detect heat signatures and may contain positive signals for actual wildfire activity as well as heat and smoke columns, especially if the heat column is being deflected or collapsing outside of the fire parameters. Heat signatures from heated air are somewhat common with these tools. 

Satellite imagery and mapping tools (such as FIRMS or MODIS) can provide a general picture of fire activity but should not be relied on for details. The BC Wildfire Service regularly maps fires when conditions and resources allow, and updates are available on our interactive map, or on incident-specific pages.  

Satellite imagery is an important tool that wildland fire managers use to identify the general location, extent and intensity of wildfire activity and its effects. However, these tools do not always display accurate and precise information.  

MODIS and FIRMS use satellite sensors to record the intensity of electromagnetic radiation from Earth in various spectral wavelengths or channels. This means heat signatures are picked up by the satellite and the map is populated with pixels. The satellite can flag smoke, or large open areas such as cut blocks, as a heat signature. It will also pick up a heat signature if the ground around a fire is cooler than the fire itself, for example in the morning when the cooler temperatures around the fire can make the heat reading appear more intense than it really is. Other situations which can result in heat readings which are not necessarily indicative of where a wildfire is burning may include nighttime detections, large wildfires experiencing explosive growth, or a high scan angle. 

To learn more about the technology and its limitations, visit:…