With another record-setting wildfire season coming to a close in the United States, researchers from the University of California, Berkeley argue it's time to invest in a fire-spotting satellite.

"If we had information on the location of fires when they were smaller, then we could take appropriate actions quicker and more easily, including preparing for evacuation," said fire expert Scott Stephens, a UC Berkeley associate professor of environmental science, policy and management. "Wildfires would be smaller in scale if you could detect them before they got too big, like less than an acre."

For this reason, the researchers have designed a satellite using state-of-the-art sensors and written analysis software designed to minimize false alarms. Called the Fire Urgency Estimator in Geosynchronous Orbit (FUEGO), the scientists say they could build it for several hundred million dollars.

"With a satellite like this, we will have a good chance of seeing something from orbit before it becomes an Oakland fire," said physicist Carl Pennypacker, a research associate at UC Berkeley's Space Sciences Laboratory and scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, referring to the 1991 fire that destroyed more than 3,000 homes in Berkeley and Oakland. "It could pay for itself in one firefighting season."

This year, California's firefighting arm, called CAL FIRE, responded to more than 6,000 wildfires, or 1,600 more than average -- a number that is expected to rise in coming years due to global warming, Stephens said.

"The point is, satellites like Landsat and GOES provide great information after a fire starts; they can focus and monitor a fire by looking at smoke plumes, fire spread, hot spots at the edges, etc.," Maggi Kelly, a remote sensing expert, said. "FUEGO is designed for early detection of smaller fires. Right now, we lose a lot of time because fires are already big by the time we see them."