Determining forest fire risk using satellite imagery
Avatar photo Nash Prado

Determining forest fire risk using satellite imagery


Over the past 10 years, satellite imagery has become one of the primary tools that forest fire professionals use to evaluate forest fire risk and plan for disaster. In this article, we examine the methodologies that Proimagery utilizes to quantify first fire risk to insurers and property owners.

A forest fire can be a damaging ecological and environmental disaster whether it is caused by natural forces or man-made activity. Nature cannot be controlled and is often hard to predict. The proliferation of satellite imagery and image processing techniques have made it easier to estimate high-risk areas and minimize the frequency of forest fire and reduce or avert damage.

High-risk areas for forest fire are locations where forest fires are more likely to start, and from where they can easily spread. Understanding the factors that influence the occurrence of fire and its dynamic behavior are critical aspects of fire management.

Butte County Camp Fire – November 2018

On November 6, 2018, a huge wildfire hit Butte County in California. This event was also known as the Camp Fire 2018. The Camp Fire 2018 was the deadliest and most destructive wildfire in California history up to date and according to insurers, it was also the costliest single natural disaster in the world resulting in $12.5 billion in insurable losses.

Butte County Wildfire - Before ImageButte County Wildfire - During Fire
False-color shortwave satellite imagery captured a few hours after the wildfire started and a true color pre-wildfire satellite image were used to capture the extent of the damage.


Assessing risk before a wildfire happens – Proimagery uses satellite imagery and remote sensing processes to map high-risk areas for wildfire. In the image below, a process called the Categorized Vegetation dryness index was used to calculate the risk of wildfire through a thick, forested area by estimating the dryness of the vegetation around it.

A satellite image captured before the wildfire shows the dryness of the vegetation within the affected area of the wildfire.

Butte County WildfireAfter fire satellite imagery - processed
Categorized Vegetation Dryness index to estimate the risk of forest wildfire


Furthermore, upon a closer look, there are a number of residential buildings near the area which would have been classified as at high risk for wildfire.


Butte County Wildfire - After fire processed imageryButte County Wildfire - Before fire processed imagery
Residential buildings near high-risk areas


Surveying the damage in real-time after a wildfire happens – Satellite imagery was also be used to assess the damage during and after the wildfire. Proimagery used a process called Normalized Burn Ratio Index to calculate the total damage area. This data helps rescuers, fire management teams, and insurance companies to assess the damage.



There are a number of ways that satellite imagery can augment your damage response process both before and after a wildfire. Reach out to Proimagery if you are interested in learning more.