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Sub-surface Fires

Detect Developing Fires in Coal Piles and Other Exothermic Materials

Spontaneous combustion in coal stock piles. The lighter areas indicate heat - revealing fires that may be burning underground and not immediately visible.


Bulk storage of any combustible materials leads to fire risk in many large storage areas such as landfills, waste bunkers, wood or paper stockpiles, as well cement and coal storage yards. Self-ignition usually starts within the bottom layers of a stock-pile as a result of temperature increases in the material. The same conditions apply to underground environments on coal mines.

This brings with it the threat of fire, direct monetary loss, and safety issues for personnel. In addition, there is the risk of consequential damages caused by fire, including loss of nearby property, water damage resulting from fire fighting, and production shutdowns. Lack of attention to these risks may also increase insurance premiums.

Aerial Survey
Typically these environments cover very large areas, sometimes inaccessible, meaning the use of a portable thermal imaging camera is not a practical solution for this critical task. Use of UAV mounterd thermal cameras eliminates the need for costly helicopter or fixed wing inspection, and can be deployed instantly when required. It also allows for an accurate positioning and a detailed analysis of the critical location so that the hot spot can be identified, extinguished and a fire prevented. 


  • Locates combustion developing below the surface before smoke or flames appear
  • Earliest possible warning
  • Ideal for monitoring compost piles, landfills, scrap bunkers, rail hopper cars, etc.
  • Inspect large areas and structures quickly from a safe location
  • Helps prevent material loss and damage to buildings or equipment

Application Example

The video below is a low-altitude survey of a waste disposal site. It covers both uncompacted and baled waste. This clip shows just two of the 20+ colour palettes available which can be used to best view thermal information.

Of particular note is the presence of permanent heat sources deep within the baled waste stack.