The western United States is in the middle of wildfires. This summer in California, an oak fire near Yosemite National Park burned down more than 19,000 acres of his. Up north, the McKinney Fire burned down more than 55,000 acres in just one weekend, making it the Golden State’s largest fire of the year. A mosquito fire in the foothills east of Sacramento had grown to 30,000 acres by Friday morning.
Over the past decade, California has experienced 9 of the 10 largest wildfires on record. it’s not alone. In Alaska, a record-breaking fire season destroyed an area the size of Connecticut. After consuming more than 11,000 square miles, more than Massachusetts, last year, wildfires have already burned nearly 9,000 square miles across the United States since early 2022. Wildfires in Europe are also a devastating record.
Climate change is exacerbating heat waves and droughts, contributing to these extreme fires. The 2020 fire season destroyed nearly 18,000 structures in the United States, more than half of which were homes. In 2018, wildfires caused her $148 billion in economic losses in California alone.
Firefighting must be fought with the best available tools to prevent loss of life and massive economic damage. Unfortunately, for budget reasons, firefighters don’t always have these tools.
Situational awareness is essential in firefighting. Real-time information about where fires are, how fast they travel and grow, and weather conditions that can affect fires. But even today, many departments have only paper notes, maps and radios for communication.
Until recently, even fire departments with access to planes to do mapping had to land before data could be uploaded. By the time my colleagues got the information, the situation on the ground had often changed.
Thankfully, firefighting technology has improved significantly in recent years. For example, first responders can now use airplanes equipped with infrared sensors to pinpoint the exact location of a fire that has just started. Each division is also acquiring planes that can instantly send data to firefighters on the ground and send information directly to mobile phones.
Some have applied the power of artificial intelligence to take some of the guesswork out of firefighting. Lockheed Martin and Nvidia partnered to create digital simulations based on data such as local vegetation, topography and wind patterns to predict where and how far fires would spread.
AI company Remark Holdings has developed a surveillance robot roughly the size of a small car that can use computer vision to detect wildfire signs such as high temperatures, smoke and flames, and relay that information instantly. .
Firefighters have also started using drones to ensure safety while fighting fires. These devices provide a bird’s eye view of the fire and help people on the ground predict where it will spread next. Helpful.
And Qwake Technologies is developing an augmented reality helmet to help firefighters maintain orientation in low-visibility conditions.
As such technology becomes available, its adoption is uneven. California recently pledged $30 million to acquire a plane with cutting-edge sensors and communications technology to fight wildfires. But other states and regions were less positive.
We are currently in a vicious cycle. Greenhouse gas emissions contribute to extreme fire behavior, but wildfires themselves also release large amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, further exacerbating the impacts of climate change. His 2020 fire season in California produced a record his 112 million tons of climate-warming gases. In the same year, Oregon’s greenhouse gas emissions from wildfires exceeded the total annual emissions normally generated by the state’s power plants.
Only by consistently investing in the best tools for the job can you get out of this cycle.
Alan Bigelow, who lives in Southern Nevada, is a firefighter with 18 years of experience.