The Earth Observation Research and Innovation Centre (formerly GEONETCast Centre) on 5th September 2015 installed a ground station for receiving data from direct broadcast Earth Observation Satellites. Using data from satellites like TERRA, AQUA and Suomi NPP, we are able to detect fires across all of West Africa and parts of North and Central Africa. These fires are detected during satellite passes over the above-mentioned areas. In order to ascertain the validity of the data processed, we embarked on a trip across some selected areas which recorded the highest number of fires detected. These areas were located in the Brong Ahafo and Northern Regions. These areas included towns like Atebubu in the Atebubu- Amantin District, Kintampo in the Kintampo North District, Yendi in the Yendi District among others. Using data compiled from the VIIRS instrument on the Suomi NPP satellite, from January to March 18th 2016, we identified fires in the localities mentioned above and those along the roads leading to them. We inspected a total of 25 sites, with all but one confirming the presence of a recent fire. The site with no trace of a fire seemed to have been recently excavated, removing any evidence of a fire. [Insert pic of excavation site] After compiling the data, we drove to the major towns to speak with the fire service crews stationed there. We entered the GPS coordinates of the detected fires along the routes leading to the towns, onto a handheld GPS receiver. This directed us to sites with prior fires for inspection. We logged the location, land use, probable cause of the fire, estimated area and the crops affected at the sites.Due to issues with information dissemination, we were unable to interact fully with the fire service personnel at all stations visited except Kintampo. However, we got to interact with the public relations officer for the regional station in Tamale, who gave us some insight on the state of fires in the region and also their classification methods for fires. He indicated the strong possibility of differences between the statistics we gathered and those compiled by his team. This was attributed to the fact that we would detect and record all instances of fires occurring during satellite passes but they ignored controlled fires set deliberately, like those by farmers clearing their land and remote bushfires. He also mentioned that domestic fires were the most prominent in their jurisdiction. Crops usually affected by fires occurring in and around Tamale tended to be farms of Shea trees. DO3 Nelson Doku, the officer in charge of the Kintampo fire station, spoke on the fact that the main causes of bushfires in his jurisdiction were human – primarily, Fulani herdsmen, farmers, and hunters. He took the team to the site of a recent fire close to the station – at the College of Health. We logged the fire but could not identify it in our data as the satellites we processed from did not have passes around the period it lasted. Cocoa, cashew, maize, yams and mangoes were among the most affected crops in the area.
As part of our visit to the Atebubu fire station, we were informed of the Africa Plantations for Sustainable Development (APSD) and how fires affected their work. As we headed to the site of the plantation, we visited a few sites along the road – one of them, close to an APSD Plantation. We introduced ourselves to the Director, Rob Pell, and asked about the effect of fires on the organization. Occupying a land area of 40,000ha, with 8,000ha filled with eucalyptus trees, the organization was at risk of losing their investment with the rampant wildfires occurring in the dry season. He told us most fires were caused by farmers seeking to clear plots of land quickly. He also spoke of the various strategies implemented to prevent the spread of fires in and around the plantation. With the use of patrols and a large fire belt, most fires are detected and extinguished quickly. However, there was an instance where they lost about 847ha, about 12% of the farm to a fire. Situations like those set them back significantly as they could lose over 4 years of work on a large to a single fire. He commended the work of the centre but pointed out the need for rapid alert systems capable of providing alerts in 5 mins or preferably less. He indicated he was open to further collaboration with the centre.