National Weather Service satellite gives local firefighters an edge during wildfire season

HANFORD, Calif. (KFSN) -- An advanced weather satellite is giving forecasters the ability to predict fire behavior more accurately than ever before.

The National Weather Service and firefighters have always worked together, but this satellite is a game-changer. It produces images almost in real time, and during the Detwiler Fire, it gave crews a view they couldn't see through the smoke.

Within a minute of ignition, a new satellite in space had eyes on the Detwiler Fire.

"All of a sudden boom, there it is," Kris Mattarochia said.

The fire exploded near the town of Mariposa, and the satellite, known as GOES-16, started beaming images of the heat down to Mattarochia at the National Weather Service in Hanford.

"I know there's a lot of people that live close to this fire," he said. "I was concerned about their safety."

His team used the information to make vital predictions, the direction of the fire spread, and potential shifts in the wind to help firefighters figure out where to send resources.

At one point, a forecaster caught a flare up, just before the fire jumped the containment line.

"That was a great example of where we saw something change in the fire behavior, and we were able to report that to the folks on the ground, right away," Mattarochia said.

At the height of the fire, Mattarochia was getting a new image every 60 seconds. Even though the technology is in a test phase, it is much faster, producing a view, closer to earth with much higher resolution than any previous satellite could.

And the National Weather Service will soon be able to text message hot spot locations to fire crews with the click of a mouse.

"This improvement in technology is just a great leap for us to be able to help keep people safer, community safer and the firefighters safer too," Mattarochia said.

Now that the Detwiler Fire has come to an end, all eyes in this building are on the lookout at a wider part of the state with a little help from above.

In November this satellite will move to the east and a new one will launch in the spring to watch the west coast. Both will also be used to predict severe weather patterns - everything from hail storms to fog in the Valley.
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