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Greece national wildfire monitoring system provides a model for other countries — and for companies in fire-ravaged regions

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Trying to limit the damage from devastating wildfires, Greece has become the first country to implement a national satellite-based wildfire monitoring system, signing a $21.5 million contract with Munich-based thermal intelligence provider OroraTech

The nationwide system promises to be a model for other countries and for power utilities and other companies facing a world of more frequent and more threatening fires. 

If Greece’s move into satellite monitoring pays off, it will serve as a model for the rest of the world, said Simonetta Cheli, director of Earth Observation Programs at the European Space Agency. The OroraTech system provides “a powerful example of space technologies providing immediate and critical benefits here on Earth,” said Cheli.

To avoid a fire apocalypse

Greece’s Ministry of Digital Governance on July 2 announced the investment, which will include the deployment of four thermal imaging satellites developed in collaboration with a consortium of Greek subcontractors.

Major wildfires have become regular on the Greek mainland and its more than 6,000 islands. Vacationers and residents have fled “apocalyptic” scenes as blazes rage across the country. In 2023, 988,000 acres of Greece went up in smoke, according to the European Forest Fire Information System — double the area in 2022 and triple that in 2020.

Real-time alerts

The new system will integrate the cameras, ground-based relay stations and sophisticated processing algroithms with a constellation of satellites designed to monitor the entire nation for signs of fire.

Although the system won’t be fully operational until 2026, when the satellite constellation is in orbit, OroraTech will immediately deliver data through its current network of satellites. This will include alerting and providing data to the Greek emergency services as quickly as possible, the company said.

“By investing specifically into orbital technology, we are making a real difference in monitoring wildfires that threaten human lives, our ecosystems and our economy,” said Dimitris Papastergiou, Greek minister of digital governance. 

Munich-based OroraTech, which won an open tender by the European Space Agency (ESA) to support the Greek National Satellites Space Program, leverages infrared data from satellites to deliver real-time monitoring and detection to government and private sector clients. 

Founded in 2018, the company already has more than 20 satellites in orbit and works with clients ranging from Gorongosa National Park in Mozambique to Chilean pulp and paper company CMPC.

PG&E invests in fire prevention

Other companies are developing similar systems. Satellites On Fire, for example, is a startup tapping into four NASA satellites to provide user friendly fire warnings in an app.  

On a larger scale, ALERTCalifornia, a public-private partnership program based at the University of California San Diego, manages a network of more than 1,080 AI-trained monitoring cameras and sensor arrays to provide real-time information in the blaze-battered state. 

One notable funder of ALERTCalifornia is utility giant Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E), whose multi-billion dollar liability for wildfires in 2019 caused by its powerlines pushed it to file for bankruptcy. The company emerged from bankruptcy the following year, its executives aware that wildfire risk within its 70,000-square-mile service territory had become an existential threat.

PG&E is also looking to the skies for wildfire prevention. In April, the company announced a partnership with Planet Labs, a San Francisco-based provider of daily satellite data. Rather than monitoring the fires themselves, the satellites will be used to determine where vegetation is hazardously encroaching on electrical infrastructure — a cause of multiple fires in recent years. 

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