The Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) is launching up to eight Advanced Fire Information System (AFIS) pilot projects in Australasia, the Americas, Europe and the rest of Africa, in addition to the service currently operating in Southern Africa, reveals CSIR earth observation science and information technology competence area manager Lee Annamalai.
The pilot projects are expected to run between one and two months, with the hope of rolling out the service to clients on these continents on a more permanent basis.
There has been significant interest from private- and public-sector clients in Austral- asia, the Americas, Europe and the rest of Africa, especially within the targeted segments of forestry, extended infrastructure owners and farmers.
The AFIS is a mature operational geospatial system that provides near real-time information related to the detection, monitor- ing, alerting and assessment of wildfires, using direct broadcast satellite data.
The data is derived from the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s Terra and Aqua satellites, which carry the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradio- meter (Modis), as well as geostationary satellites like the European Organisation for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites’ Meteosat Second Generation (MSG) satel- lite, the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite, in North America, and the MTS2 satellite, in Australasia.
The Modis sensor on the Terra and Aqua satellites can detect fires as small as 0.25 ha, but passes over Southern Africa only four times a day.
The satellite spends between 10 and 15 minutes over South Africa at a time, says Annamalai.
The geostationary MSG satellite provides 15-minute updates on fires in Africa and Europe but at a courser resolution, resulting in a fire detection size of between 5 ha and 10 ha; however, depending on the intensity of the fires, the geospatial system is able to detect fires that are smaller if they are more intense.
Satellite data is also gathered by the South African National Space Agency’s reception stations in Hartebeesthoek.
“By combining the satellites, the high spatial accuracy of Modis and the high temporal frequency of the MSG satellite, the data of one satellite complements that of the other to deliver a fire detection rate of about 65% of all fires in Southern Africa,” says Annamalai.
The fire data received from the Modis and MSG satellites are downloaded to a central server, which processes the data through specific algorithms to remove false alarms and pinpoint locations.
This is then populated into the AFIS geospatial database and served to clients through a variety of dissemination mechanisms, including SMS alerts, email, the geospatial system’s interactive Web viewer or mobile applications, he adds.
The AFIS, which is a new-generation geospatial application, delivers meaningful and early warning of fires through email, Twitter, SMS, mobile applications or a website.
It also features a product ecosystem that includes an interactive online Web viewer with a map to view the fires and an interactive mobile application for iPhone, iPad or Android devices – cocreated with fire management field staff – which incorporates Fire Danger Index (FDI) information.
The FDI is a five-day prediction that includes weather and vegetation conditions, location-specific alerts and notifications, field staff tracking, as well as standards-compliant interfaces for feeding data to third-party value-add developers and Internet-independent field terminals that receive the data in remote locations.
The geospatial system was developed by the CSIR with early and ongoing support from State-owned power utility Eskom, in response to the utility’s need for a fire detection system that can detect fires within 5 km of any segment of its national trans- mission network infrastructure.
For example, when there is a fire next to, or near, a particular part of the trans- mission network, the AFIS will send an SMS alert to Eskom’s National Control Centre, the specific responsible Eskom field staff in the region, as well as the rele- vant fire protection association.
Further, if there are multiple fires, as is the case during the fire season between June and September, the geospatial system simultaneously alerts several field staff that there is a fire close to the particular part of the network where they operate, while still only selectively informing the necessary staff.
Local Fire Prevention Efforts
Annamalai says the system is not designed for use by the general public, but is rather geared towards providing information to fire-protection associations and infrastructure owners and managers, such as those responsible for game farms and lodges, piped gas infrastructure, telecommunications infrastructure, electricity networks, nature reserves and forests.
South Africa is a fire-prone country and particularly susceptible to wild bush fires, with the effects of climate change increasing and changing traditional fire patterns.
However, fire remains an important part of the ecosystem, which makes data, such as which and how often areas have burnt, an important tool in prevention efforts and fire assessments.
The AFIS maintains an 11-year-old fire database and is able to provide data that serves as an independent autonomous prediction, detection, alerting and reporting system.
“The AFIS is fast becoming the national standard information system that provides the most accurate and up-to-date real-time information to support the National Veld and Forest Fire Act,” says Annamalai.
He says numerous fire-prevention orga- nisations, including the Lowveld Fire Protection Association, the Working on Fire government programme, Cape Nature, the Kruger National Park, the South African National Disaster Management Centre, farmers, fire protection associations, national parks and many of the national public-owned game reserves subscribe to the alert system and have been receiving alerts for a few years.
“The subscribers receive SMS and email alerts that form a key input in their response to fires,” he says.
The CSIR has also provided a few computer-based AFIS field terminals that enable disaster management centres and the regional offices of fire protection associations in South Africa to receive detailed information on active fires and FDI maps.
The FDI and alerts are used as triggers for firefighters to prepare and respond to fires, while the Web viewers are used at fire station control rooms to generate a national or regional picture.