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Using satellites and AI, space-based technology is shaping the future of firefighting

The current space race isn’t just for billionaires.

Using satellites, drones and artificial intelligence, emerging technology is changing the way firefighting agencies and governments battle the ever-increasing threat of wildfires as hundreds of thousands of acres burn across the western United States.

New programs are being developed by startups and research institutions to predict fire behavior, monitor drought and even detect fires when they first start. As climate change continues to increase the intensity and frequency of wildfires, these breakthroughs offer at least one tool in the growing arsenal of prevention and suppression strategies.

“This is not to replace firefighting on the ground,” said Ilkay Altintas, a computer scientist with the University of California, San Diego, who developed a fire map for the region. “The more science and data we can give firefighters and the public, the quicker we’ll have solutions to combat and mitigate wildfires.”

More than 80 large fires and complexes have scorched more than 1.3 million acres across 13 states this year as of Friday, according to the National Interagency Fire Center, and additional fires are breaking out almost every week.

The country’s largest inferno, the Bootleg Fire in southern Oregon, has forced thousands of residents to evacuate since lightning sparked it July 6. Smoke from the Western blazes is so thick that East Coast residents were treated this week to a spectacular, if worrisome, fiery sunrise and hazy skies.

The Statue of Liberty is seen through a cover of wildfire smoke as seen from Brooklyn, N.Y., on July 21, 2021.Brendan McDermid / Reuters

“As the risk for catastrophic wildfire grows, so should our ability to forecast wildfires and to mitigate fire risk,” Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., said last month during a House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology hearing.

Her own district, which includes San Mateo County, was one of several Northern California communities affected by last year’s CZU Lightning Complex Fire that torched nearly 90,000 acres over five weeks. Lofgren is one of several congressional leaders working to introduce legislation that would bolster funding for the “understanding, prediction, and management of wildland fires through robust research initiatives.” Her bill would also aim to better integrate science agencies into federal wildfire response strategies, she said.

Despite San Mateo’s proximity to Silicon Valley, the tech capital has been slow to embrace firefighting innovation. That started to change over the last year as more startups entered the sector, looking for federal and state partners to fund projects.

The U.S. Forest Service already uses predictive tools to monitor fire weather, fire danger and fuels, and provide intelligence for incident commanders, firefighters and support staff. But many of the tools available rely on satellite imaging that can take hours to transmit and analyze.

“A lot of the current operations just aren’t getting situational awareness as frequently as they would like,” said Andre Coleman, who is leading a team of researchers at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, Washington.

Firefighters hinder the Dixie Fire from crossing the Feather River in Plumas National Forest, Calif., on July 17, 2021.David Swanson / Reuters

With initial funding from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Coleman helped develop a system in 2014 called Rapid Analytics for Disaster Response, or RADR, that uses image-capturing technology from satellites, aircraft, drones, artificial intelligence and cloud computing to assess the impact of natural disasters, including wildfires. An expanded version of the tool, called RADR-Fire, can reveal wildfire boundaries multiple times a day and link impact and risk to structures, substations and other critical infrastructure in the landscape.

Typically, when incident commanders can’t get an accurate read of a how big a fire is or where exactly it’s burning, they order aircraft support to record images of the fire, Coleman explained. Those images are then analyzed by support staff who create a map of the fire lines. The process can take hours where Coleman’s tool can provide the information within minutes.

“Coordination can be challenging,” he said. “This can help with evacuation routes to help understand where search and rescue needs to go.”

German company OroraTech is also aiming to provide real-time fire data but at a global scale. Based in Munich, the startup is building a constellation of 100 small satellites, about the size of a shoebox each, outfitted with thermal infrared cameras to monitor the planet and report, within an hour of ignition, any fire larger than 10 meters, or about 33 feet.

The first of these nanosatellites will launch in December with the help of the Silicon Valley-based Spire, a space-to-cloud data and analytics company, and Space X. Fourteen more satellites could launch by 2023.

“Having an overview from the top, with the highest possible refresh rate, that is the most important part” of understanding and predicting fire behavior, Björn Stoffers, OroraTech co-founder and chief marketing officer, said.

“We saw that every state has their own system and their own warning tools, and we saw huge discrepancies with those maps, especially with them being outdated,” he said. “We’re already quite a bit faster.”

A firefighting tanker makes a drop over the Grandview Fire near Sisters, Ore., on July 11, 2021.Oregon Fire Department / AP

Last year, while smoke from the historic wildfires choked the air for millions of people across the country, OroraTech graduated from the Google Accelerator. Since then, the company raised $7 million in investments to build its global wildfire warning system. Its software platform is already being used in Canada, South America, Africa and Australia but the big target is signing partners in the United States, Stoffers said.

A quick tutorial of the program revealed a map similar to Google Earth that shows not just the location of a fire, but also any surrounding spot fires, air particles, wind patterns and cloud cover. Researchers are currently working to add a lightning strike layer to the existing platform. Users can also measure the distance of smoke plumes and see, in real time, the direction dangerous air particles are traveling.

OroraTech is just one of several companies using space-based technology to monitor wildfires. San Francisco-based artificial intelligence company Chooch AI uses a system that analyzes satellite images every 10 minutes to identify where new wildfires started, The Associated Press reported. And tech startup Salo Sciences teamed up with Planet, a satellite company founded by NASA scientists, to build a monitoring system called the California Forest Observatory, which uses AI and satellite images to create a detailed map of forested land in California to help predict and prevent wildfires.

“Especially in California, if Silicon Valley is next to those wildfire disasters, you can bet there are other companies working to mitigate the effects,” Stoffers said.

In Southern California, Ilkay Altintas and her team of computer scientists at the University of California, San Diego’s WIFIRE Lab developed a fire map for the region that can be used by incident commanders and researchers to model fire behavior in real time.

The map uses artificial intelligence and information from previous fires to predict how new fires will burn and to help plan prescribed burns, which can help keep forests thinned and healthy and therefore prevent future megafires like what the West has experienced over the last few years.

“In California, we do science and tech really well,” Altintas said. “It’s an evolution of what we already have.”

WIFIRE Lab’s fire map is already being used, she added, by local and state agencies in Southern California, and helped inform attack plans for the Palisades Fire, which threatened homes in affluent Los Angeles-area neighborhoods, and the Bobcat Fire last year that came close to the historic Mount Wilson Observatory in the Angeles National Forest.

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Pop mogul Simon Cowell was a racing flop with ‘awful’ £35,000 horse he owned with Ant and Dec – that didn’t win a penny

SIMON COWELL conquered the music world – but his foray into racing ended in disaster with an ‘awful’ £35,000 horse he owned with Ant and Dec.

The music mogul, 62, has done it all with bands like One Direction, Little Mix and solo acts Olly Murs and James Arthur, to name but a few.

Cowell owned an 'awful' £35,000 horse with Ant and Dec - but the runner didn't win a single penny in six races


Cowell owned an ‘awful’ £35,000 horse with Ant and Dec – but the runner didn’t win a single penny in six racesCredit: PA:Press Association
Cowell remains a massive racing fan and loves Royal Ascot and the Epsom Derby


Cowell remains a massive racing fan and loves Royal Ascot and the Epsom Derby

His Syco label – plus shows such as Britain’s Got Talent – have dominated the entertainment industry and brought him an estimated net worth of £385m.

A lover of Royal Ascot and the Epsom Derby, he looked perfectly poised to strike a knockout blow in the world of thoroughbreds.

But it turns out his runner was far from No1 in the charts – and never even finished better than fifth during a doomed six-race career.

Things looked promising at the start.

Named It’s A Yes From Me, the runner was trained with the respected James Fanshawe and sent off at 8-1 for his first race in June 2014.

But coming last of five by 13-and-a-half lengths was unfortunately about as good as it got for the gelding.

A month’s rest followed before he was sent off at 40-1 in a six-furlong sprint at Doncaster.

But there he could only manage fifth again, and it was same at Redcar the next month.

‘Dreadfully slow’

By October that year – with further finishes of sixth and tenth – It’s A Yes From Me came second-last in a one-mile race at Kempton.

One analysis of the race warned punters the horse was ‘one to tread carefully’ with.

Well, Cowell and Ant and Dec took that advice to heart as they never raced him again.

The horse was penniless from six races, never finishing high enough to recoup some of that £35,000 investment.

It’s doubtful Cowell, with hundreds of millions in the bank, lost any sleep over that.

But Ant and Dec revealed just how bad things has got with the horse during an interview last year.

Dec said of It’s A Yes From Me: “It was awful, it was a dreadfully slow horse.

“It wasn’t a racehorse it was just a horse, because it didn’t race.

“Every time we got to the BGT studio Simon would say, ‘I keep paying stable fees on this horse, but I’ve never seen it run’.”

Cowell originally wanted to name the nag after himself, but they settled on It’s A Yes From Me when they bought it in 2013.

‘It was awful’

Dec revealed its eventual fate: “I think it got rehomed.”

Of course it’s not all been bad for Cowell at the races.

He was one of the exclusive few at the Epsom Derby in June, having a great time with partner Lauren Silverman and Piers Morgan.

And two weeks later he was at Royal Ascot – where he first discovered his love of racing.

Cowell told SunSport’s Matt Chapman during a chat at Epsom: “I’ve got my son Eric with me today.

“My mum and dad years ago used to take me to Ascot and I was probably about his age – seven or eight.

Cowell with partner Lauren at Epsom earlier this year


Cowell with partner Lauren at Epsom earlier this yearCredit: Getty
It's A Yes From Me trails behind in last during one of his six races


It’s A Yes From Me trails behind in last during one of his six races
The music supremo tweeted about his horse's bad start... which never got much better


The music supremo tweeted about his horse’s bad start… which never got much better

Most read in Horse Racing

“So the fact I can now bring him to the races as well is brilliant. It brings back a lot of good memories.

“Making TV shows is my passion. But racing is actually my second passion.”

He hasn’t made that passion the money-maker his music label is, but don’t rule out Cowell staging his own comeback at the track in the near future.


Commercial content notice: Taking one of the bookmaker offers featured in this article may result in a payment to The Sun. 18+. T&Cs apply.

Remember to gamble responsibly

A responsible gambler is someone who:

  • Establishes time and monetary limits before playing
  • Only gambles with money they can afford to lose
  • Never chases their losses
  • Doesn’t gamble if they’re upset, angry or depressed
  • Gamcare –
  • Gamble Aware –

Commercial content notice: Taking one of the bookmaker offers featured in this article may result in a payment to The Sun. 18+. T&Cs apply.

Remember to gamble responsibly

A responsible gambler is someone who:

  • Establishes time and monetary limits before playing
  • Only gambles with money they can afford to lose
  • Never chases their losses
  • Doesn’t gamble if they’re upset, angry or depressed
  • Gamcare –
  • Gamble Aware –
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Minnesota wildfire doubles in size, creates its own weather

A wildfire in northeastern Minnesota more than doubled in size Tuesday, growing to more than 19,000 acres, after it produced pyrocumulous clouds that generated lightning and even raindrops, fire officials said.

The Greenwood Fire’s growth, most of which happened Monday afternoon, prompted firefighters to leave McDougal Lake, about 80 miles south-southwest of Duluth, officials said. Authorities fear that structures might have been destroyed or damaged.

“We had crews embedded, and as this fire took off, it was quite an effort to communicate with forces on the ground so they could get out,” said federal fire incident spokesman Clark McCreedy.

The pullout was a success, and no injuries were reported. However, downed trees and necessary cleanup mean crews have been unable to assess damage around the lake, McCreedy said.

In addition to the firefighter pullout, 159 dwellings were evacuated Monday, according to an update from the National Wildfire Coordinating Group. Cabins, homes and recreational sites remain under threat, the group said.

Patrick Prochaska, a Minneapolis resident who built a cabin near McDougal Lake in 2012, told NBC affiliate KARE that he watched via security camera as flames mostly bypassed his property Monday, causing minor damage.

“I was feeling very scared,” he said. “At the same time, I could see that it was not doing anything to the house, and it was kind of reassuring.”

The fire in and north of Superior National Forest has mostly performed according to the weather, fire officials said. On Monday, with dry fuel on the ground and temperatures in the high 80s, it was an expanding inferno punctuated by strobes of lightning.

“The winds were drawn into the fire from all directions,” the incident’s fire behavior analyst, Michael Locke, said in a video update Tuesday. “It created what we call pyrocumulous clouds. And really high in the atmosphere … you’d see a thunderstorm, and in fact they went high enough to produce a few sprinkles of rain and even some lightning.”

Temperatures dipped into the mid-70s Tuesday, and the blaze mellowed. “The real story was cloud cover and cooler temperatures,” McCreedy said.

More of the same, and possibly rain, was in the forecast, giving officials hope that they might be able to close the book on an unusually active and dry fire season in Minnesota.

Experts have said climate change has set the stage for extreme weather, including an increase in the frequency and intensity of wildfires in the Northern Hemisphere.

Firefighters — 426 were assigned to the Greenwood event — have been confronted with “prolonged, severe drought,” making parts of Minnesota look like the fire-prone West this summer, McCreedy said.

The Greenwood Fire, which was detected Aug. 15, is believed to have been sparked by lightning.

So far, firefighters have scored no containment, and areas including McDougal Lake, Sand Lake and the Highway 2 corridor have been under mandatory evacuation orders. The federal Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness was closed Saturday “due to active and increasing fire activity, extreme drought, limited resources,” the National Forest Service said in a notice.

Officials set a goal of Sept. 1 for full containment.

“We’re probably going to get more of that moderating weather for the rest of the week,” McCreedy said. “That opens the door for fire crews to make progress on the ground.”

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Hiker survives grizzly bear attack at Denali National Park

A tourist from Indiana was attacked and injured by a grizzly bear at Denali National Park and Preserve in Alaska on Monday night, park officials said.

The 55-year-old tourist, whose name was not released, was hiking alone in dense fog in the Thoroughfare Pass area when a mother bear and multiple cubs charged him from nearby bushes, the National Park Service said in a statement Tuesday.

He had puncture wounds to a calf, his left ribs and his left shoulder, the agency said.

The victim used bear spray that might have cut the attack short, the park service indicated. He walked 1.5 miles to a visitor’s center where “medical personnel” vacationing at Denali treated him as a park bus driver called 911, it said.

The hiker was taken to a medical center near the park before he was transferred to Fairbanks Memorial Hospital, about 120 miles away, park officials said. He was stabilized at the Fairbanks hospital, they said.

“Due to the apparent defensive nature of this attack, there are no plans to locate the bear involved,” the park service said. “Female bears with cubs are naturally defensive of their young, especially when surprised. There is no indication that this bear is unusually dangerous.”

Grizzly bears are federally protected as a threatened species in the lower 48 states. According to the National Wildlife Federation, fewer than 1,500 grizzlies are left in the lower 48, but they thrive, comparatively, in Alaska, where they have a population of about 31,000.

The backcountry area of the attack is closed for one week as a precaution, the park service said.

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