Harnessing space-age technology

In 2004, local scientist Philip Frost had a “Eureka” moment that has been a massive boost for wildfire detection and prevention. He realised there might be a way of receiving, processing and distributing data streaming down from satellites, to boost fire management.

In world-first research, his team at the Centre for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) worked out a way of turning observations of large fires into real-time SMS alerts and email messages. Those receiving the messages can choose to receive the GPS position of fires, or their distance and direction in relation to a pre-defined reference point. On average, over 30 000 SMS fire alerts are sent out per fire season to Eskom and FPAs.

“The technology allows FPAs to detect fires and respond immediately, instead of having to wait until someone smells the smoke, which may well be too late,” says Frost. These SMS alerts are one of a host of smart methods that FPAs use to manage the risk of  wildfire.