August 11, 2010 / 2:33 PM / 7 years ago

FAO launches global fire monitoring system

* The system uses satellites to detect forest fires hotspots

* Provides data analysis, email alerts on 2.5-hour lag time

MILAN, Aug 11 (Reuters) - The United Nations' food agency launched a new monitoring system on Wednesday to help countries control fires and protect natural resources just as Russia is fighting its most deadly wildfires in nearly 40 years.

The new Global Fire Information Management System (GFIMS) detects fire hotspots from satellites operated by the U.S. NASA, and its users can get email alerts on specific areas of interest, which help them react quickly, the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation said in a statement.

"The GFIMS has been launched at a time when the incidence of megafires tends to increase," said Pieter van Lierop, FAO Forestry Officer, in charge of its fire management activities.

"The control of these fires has become an issue of high importance, not only because of the increasing number of casualties and the huge amounts of area burned, but also because of the relations with issues of global interest, like climate change," he said in the statement.

Forest fires have killed more than 50 people in Russia, which has been stricken by its most devastating drought in 130 years. [ID:nLDE67A0XD]

GFIMS has an online mapping interface for displaying fire hotspots in near real time, with a lag of about 2.5 hours between satellite overpass and the data being available, the Rome-based FAO said.

Vegetation fires hit an estimated 350 million hectares (ha) of land each year around the world, with about half or more of this burnt area in Africa and 700,000 to 1 million ha damaged in the Mediterranean, the agency said.

GFIMS provides analysis on trends of prevalence of fire by year and month and will include information on the size of a burnt area by land cover type in the future, the FAO said.

The system can be used by forest managers, fire fighters and agencies involved in agricultural and natural resources monitoring, it said. The subscription is free of charge.

Reporting by Svetlana Kovalyova, editing by Jane Baird

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