As fires raged in Amazonia and Indonesia in 2019 — threatening some of Earth’s most valuable high-carbon ecosystems — real-time tracking information is more critical than ever.
Firecast, a forest and fire monitoring and alert system for the tropics, uses satellite data to track ecosystem disturbances such as fires, fire risk conditions, deforestation and protected area encroachment — delivering this time-sensitive information to decision-makers in near-real time.
For urgent threats, such as fires, the tool serves as an alarm for forest managers, communities and governments, enabling swift action. Over time, Firecast creates a picture of how the forest is being used, identifying where conservation efforts are needed most and measuring how successful those efforts are.
Wildfires in the tropics are increasing in quantity and extent as dry seasons grow longer and more intense. These fires release massive amounts of climate-warming carbon into the atmosphere, creating economic strain, displacing communities and causing food insecurity. They also destroy wildlife habitats and threaten critical ecosystem services, such as water filtration and pollination.
How Firecast works
Firecast aims to help prevent the destructive effects of fires on natural ecosystems and human well-being. The tool provides timely monitoring and forecasting information that decision-makers need to protect tropical forests and prevent more fires.
Firecast alerts are customized to the needs of countries and are delivered via email alerts, interactive maps and reports on the Firecast website. Users can even tailor their alert subscriptions to specific areas of interest, for example a national park or an indigenous territory, and their language of choice.
Firecast in Action
In 2007, a fire deep within a large national park in Indonesia was detected by NASA satellites. Within hours, an email alert from Firecast informed the park manager of the fire, who then dispatched rangers to investigate it. The rangers discovered illegal loggers had cleared the forest for a temporary settlement to gain quick access to selectively log the timber in the park. The rangers arrested 84 people and removed them from the park that same day.
Fundación Amigos de la Naturaleza (FAN), a Conservation International partner in Bolivia, directly with rural and indigenous farming communities, teaching awareness of the ecosystem, health, and economic risks of burning agricultural fields during peak fire conditions. CI partnered with FAN to develop a national fire risk maps that FAN shares with with the communities they support to help reduce fire disaster.
The active fire data produced by Firecast are vital for protecting restored forest areas, which are particularly vulnerable to fires. WWF Madagascar used Firecast's active fire web map as part of a community outreach campaign to highlight the importance of protecting the Amoron'i Onilahy Protected Area in southwest of Madagascar. Fires from nearby villages were threatening the 44 hectares (109 acres) of newly reforested area in the reserve. Three years after the restoration, the site is still 85% intact which reflects a high success rate for a restoration project.