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 has 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 a forest fire are more likely to start and from where they can easily spread. Understanding the factors that influence the occurrence of fire and the dynamic behavior of it are critical aspects for fire management especially in the cases of wildfire.

In 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 insurable losses.

Butte County WildfireButte County Wildfire - November 2018

Medium Resolution Imagery captured by Planet Labs and processed by ProImagery. 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.

Through satellite imagery and remote sensing processes, the possibility to map high risk areas for wildfire is possible. In the photo below, a process called Categorized Vegetation dryness index was used to estimate 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.

Fire Satellite ImageryWildfire Satellite Imagery

Medium Resolution Imagery captured by Planet Labs and processed by ProImagery. Categorized Vegetation Dryness index to estimate the risk of forest wildfire

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

Forest Fire Satellite ImageryButte County Forest Fire

Medium Resolution Imagery captured by Planet Labs and processed by ProImageryResidential buildings and houses near high risk areas

Aside from determining risk, satellite images can also be used to assess damage once a wildfire happens. Through the use of the process called Normalized burn Ratio index the total extent of the damage of the wildfire can be estimated. This application would help rescuers, fire management team and insurance companies to asses the damage on areas where a wildfire hit.