Pentagon may allow lifesaving wildfire-tracking system to expire, report says

FireGuard system uses data from government and military-operated satellites

Louise Hall
Wednesday 28 July 2021 20:07
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California wildfire destroys homes

The Pentagon may allow a lifesaving satellite imagery programme that allows firefighters to track wildfires across to expire just as the region’s fire season picks up, a report has said.

According to The Los Angeles Times, California firefighters use a programme called FireGuard to access video and images captured by the US military to pinpoint wildfires.

However, the newspaper said that the programme has relied on temporary permission from the Pentagon for the review of classified data.

This year, that permission is set to expire as soon as September before the end of the state’s wildfire season.

Federal and state firefighters could then be prevented from using a “vastly important” tool, Phillip SeLegue, Cal Fire’s deputy chief of intel, told the newspaper.

“It’s important for situational awareness, for the alert of a new and emerging fire, as well as the ongoing assessment of fires,” Mr SeLegue said. “Right now we utilise this on an hourly basis.”

The system used data from government and military-operated satellites alongside drones and ground level sensors and cameras. Aerial views allow for quicker evacuation of residents and help emergency responders pinpoint the location of blazes.

Democratic representative and House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff is leading an effort on Capitol Hill to save the program but says they are seeing some “reluctance” from the Department of Defence (DOD).

“DOD naturally has its focus on its war-fighting capability and has some hesitance to be pulled in other directions,” he said.

Sean Triplett, a US Forest Service employee told the LA Times that a Pentagon official said they were “pretty confident” another year’s access would be given.

“We need to come up with solutions and ways to make this program continue,” he said. Lawmakers also hope that the programme could become permanent.

The Independent has contacted the Department of Defense for comment.

Spokespeople for the Defense Department and the military’s National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, which shares data with FireGuard, declined to comment to the LA Times.

A number of fires in California have gained strength and threatened property as the huge Dixie Fire charred nearly 298 square miles acres as it combined with the Fly Fire.

The state’s governor Gavin Newsom has declared a state of emergency for four northern counties as the fires cause “conditions of extreme peril to the safety of persons and property.”

Additional reporting by the Associated Press

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