In the battle against wildfires, firefighters are constantly seeking new tools and technology to gain an advantage. Now, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) is turning to artificial intelligence (AI) to detect and fight fires before they become uncontrollable infernos. According to Cal Fire’s staff chief for fire intelligence, Phillip SeLegue, the use of AI is a “game changer” that has improved situational awareness. The technology has already proven its worth by alerting authorities to a fire in the Cleveland National Forest in San Diego County, even before any fire officials were present.
This new AI technology is being used in partnership with the University of California at San Diego’s Alert California program, which has more than 1,000 cameras spread throughout the state. These cameras are constantly scanning their surroundings, and AI analyzes the footage to identify any anomalies, particularly looking for signs of smoke. Once an anomaly is detected, the system flags it for further investigation. Cal Fire can then monitor the video streams to gain situational awareness of the fire’s location and direction. The technology has proven to be highly effective, with 40% of fires since July 10 being detected by AI before any 911 calls were received.
The expansion of this technology across all 21 dispatch centers in California is a significant step forward for fire prevention and suppression efforts. The goal is to keep 95% of fires under 10 acres, and this AI tool helps achieve that by ensuring early detection and a quick response. The cameras have a wide range, with the ability to see up to 70 miles during the day and 110 miles at night. This allows fire officials to identify and suppress fires before they have a chance to grow into something larger and more dangerous.
However, the success of this AI system relies on its ability to distinguish between different types of anomalies. Mist, dust, and other harmless substances can sometimes trigger the system, leading to false alarms. The human intervention element is crucial in teaching the AI what is and isn’t smoke. By providing feedback and correcting the system, fire officials can help improve its accuracy over time.
Although this new technology is changing the way fires are detected and fought, it does not replace the boots on the ground. Firefighters are still vital in tackling wildfires directly and protecting lives and property. The AI system acts as a force multiplier, enhancing the abilities of firefighting personnel. The ideal scenario, according to Scott Slumpff, battalion chief of the intel program at Cal Fire, is to detect and suppress fires before they even make the headlines.
The increasing threat of wildfires calls for innovative solutions, and AI technology has demonstrated its ability to make a significant impact. By providing early detection, situational awareness, and the ability to monitor large areas, AI is helping firefighters gain the upper hand in the fight against wildfires. With further advancements and improvements, this technology has the potential to save lives and prevent massive destruction caused by uncontrolled fires.