California to deploy new technologies for anticipated intense wildfire season



(The Center Square) – California is gearing up for the 2023 fire season with a host of new tools to combat what is forecasted to be a fire season with dangers potentially as severe as the one experienced in 2017 where over 1.5 million acres burned in 9,270 wildfires.

California is deploying new tools – including AI, satellites, cameras, drones, and real-time intelligence alongside its largest standing army of firefighters and a fleet of aerial firefighting unmatched in number anywhere else on the planet.

Well above average rainfall brought by a string of winter storms, and unseasonal rain that lasted into spring allowed for California’s wildflowers to carpet the hills in the South. It has also resulted in significant growth of grasses and shrubs for an extended period of time. The increased vegetation will dry out in the coming months as the long days of summer begin.

Temperatures are expected to rise by the end of June, and an El Nino system is anticipated with a 90% chance it will form by July. El Nino brings thunderstorms with lightning activity. All this points to the perfect alignment of circumstances for a destructive wildfire season.

Governor Gavin Newsom joined state fire officials in Grass Valley to talk about the preparations that are taking place and the tools available to, and developed by California for seasons such as the one expected.

“In just five years, California’s wildfire response has seen a tech revolution. We’re enlisting cutting-edge technology in our efforts to fight wildfires, exploring how innovations like artificial intelligence can help us identify threats quicker and deploy resources smarter. And with the world’s largest aerial firefighting force and more firefighters on the ground than ever before, we’re keeping more Californians safer from wildfire,” Newsom announced.

CAL FIRE has secured 24 additional firefighting aircraft (19 helicopters and 5 airplanes for a contractual period of 90-120 days), added 1,350 new positions to its expanded fire crews and air attack operations, and expanded its night flight helicopter fleet from 12 to 16.

The additional fixed-wing aircraft include 3 large airtankers specifically designed to carry up to 4,000 gallons of retardant while the FireHawk night-capable helicopters are faster with greater water capacity.

Technology will also be employed to give firefighting crews the edge and near real-time information they need to be most effective.

CAL FIRE is partnering with Lockheed Martin to explore the potential of incorporating Department of Defense-grade technology focusing on drone-based software, AI-enabled tools, analytics, and capabilities to provide analysis of ground and atmospheric conditions. The collaboration is developing uninterrupted communications capabilities to fire personnel on the ground, essential during response activities.

The California National Guard will use drones for rapid aerial mapping and assessment of wildfires and LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging), can make a detailed 3-D map of the current topography and vegetation for every high fire risk region of California.

The state is collaborating with the Environmental Defense Fund to bring low-earth orbit satellite technology online and advance knowledge of satellite-based detection of fires. California anticipates providing user input and feedback during system development.

Through a pilot program, the state has already developed and funded FIRIS (Fire Integrated Real-time Intelligence System). Aircraft mounted with infrared cameras provide real-time intelligence data and analysis. It will be utilized statewide during this year’s fire season.

“What-if ” scenarios, risk forecasting, satellite capabilities mapping new wildfire ignitions, and weather information will coalesce at California’s Wildfire Threat Intelligence Center.

“While these resources will help protect our communities, Californians need to remain vigilant for what could be an intense wildfire season this year,” the governor warned.



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