Forest fire has adverse ecological and economic impacts and is a major concern in many countries. In Nepal, forests in more than 30 districts face damage due to forest fires. An effective fire detection and monitoring system is an important component of forest fire management. In view of their large-area repetitive coverage, satellite data are useful for near real-time fire detection, monitoring, and burnt area assessment. Further, the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) sensors on board Terra and Aqua satellites of National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) are already being used extensively for detecting and monitoring forest fires across the globe.
Using the forest fire data from MODIS sensors, the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) has developed the Forest Fire Detection and Monitoring System in Nepal. The work was jointly carried out in close collaboration with the Department of Forests and Soil Conservation – Ministry of Forests and Environment, Government of Nepal, under the SERVIR Hindu Kush Himalaya (SERVIR-HKH) Initiative at ICIMOD.
The system carries out automated data acquisition, processing, and reporting on fire location. It provides location information at 1x1 km resolution on active fires present during the satellite’s twice-daily overpasses. The system assimilates active fire data generated by ICIMOD’s MODIS receiving station that adopts NASA’s fire detection algorithm. To these data the system automatically adds important information such as administrative unit (i.e. district, VDC, and ward number), protected area identification, land cover type, elevation, and slope.
As an upgrade, ICIMOD has incorporated data from the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite – a sensor on NASA’s Suomi satellite – to complement the MODIS data. The result is both enhanced spatial resolution over fires of relatively small areas and improved mapping of large fire perimeters. A damage assessment form has been integrated in the web-based system that allows DoFSC officials to capture information on reported fire incidences, estimated damage, and fatalities from forest fires. A mobile application – Nepal Forest Fire Detection and Alert – supports citizen reporting on fire incidences in Nepal.
In the years ahead, the system will continue to play a major role in improving management of the region’s valuable forest resources. After a successful rollout in Nepal, this system – the first of its kind in the region – has been expanded to Bhutan, where it is providing officials and the public with a new, effective forest fire management tool.