Camp Fire shows need for early detection: How tech and artificial intelligence can help

The fast-moving Camp Fire caused traffic gridlock as Butte Country residents tried to evacuate Thursday, leading some of them to abandon their vehicles as the fire grew closer to the roadways.

Had the now-deadly fire been detected earlier and officials been able to give more notice, some residents might have avoided the dangerous situation of such a narrow escape.

How far can technology go to help automatically detect and even predict wildfires? From coast to coast, computer scientists, researchers and others are working on pushing for as far as possible.

Early detection is key as wildfires have gotten worse in recent years, according to Jim Crawford, assistant chief of South Bay operations for Cal Fire’s Santa Clara unit, who has been a firefighter for 26 years.

“The job I signed up for 26 years ago is not the same job today,” he said. “In the 1990s, firefighters battled a normal large fire for a couple of weeks. Any more than that was considered a ‘career fire.’ Now we’re having career fires multiple times a year.”

The Camp Fire — which as of Thursday night had burned more than 20,000 acres and destroyed thousands of structures — is one of more than 5,500 wildfires that have burned more than 640,000 acres in California so far this year.

Fire agencies mostly find out about fires from 911 calls — which is what happened with the Camp Fire, according to Cal Fire Capt. Scott McLean. They also monitor cameras placed throughout the state, including on undisclosed Bay Area mountaintops. Some of the cameras are aided by detection algorithms and satellites, but the systems are not quite real-time and the resolution could be better, experts say.

“Lots of people are looking into using artificial intelligence to figure out fire location, spread and behavior,” said Craig Clements, associate professor at the …read more

Source:: The Mercury News – Business


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