Kansas departments fight fires from space

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A new tool is helping firefighters get ahead of the flames this grass fire season.

Ask any firefighter and he or she will tell you minutes matter when it comes to stopping a fire. In low populated Kansas counties, like Greenwood County, time isn't always on emergency responders' sides. 

"A lot of times we have fires that can burn for 30-40 minutes before anyone is notified," Levi Vinson said.

Vinson is the Greenwood County emergency manager. He says last week, a new hot spot notification system helped firefighters act more quickly. The National Weather Service sent him a text message letting him know a satellite was picking up a grass fire near the town of Hamilton.

"We're receiving these a lot of times before a 911 call," Vinson said.

On high fire danger days, the men and women working in the National Weather Service office in Wichita are paying attention to hot spots that pop up on satellite. As soon as they see something suspicious, they send out the text message to emergency managers and fire chiefs.

Meteorologist Chance Hayes says the text alert system is in the testing phase for 26 Kansas counties.

So far it's working. The NWS is getting alerts to firefighters up to six minutes before a 911 call is made.

"I would estimate we've probably issued approximately 20 hot spot notifications across our area up to this point," Hayes said.

Hayes says they only use the hot spot notification on high fire danger days. If it continues to be successful, it could be rolled out statewide.

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