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PG&E Beefs Up Wildfire Detection Via FireScout AI Cameras

As wildfires become more frequent and intense, this project — along with other recent efforts — shows how the gov tech industry is helping to limit damage. Nighttime detection also is becoming a higher priority.

Aerial view of a wildfire burning in a forest.
With another wildfire season doing its damage in the western U.S., government technology firms are using their latest tools to help limit the physical and financial harm of those disasters.

The latest example comes from AlcheraX, which says its artificial intelligence-infused technology is helping to prevent nighttime and other fires in California from getting out of control — part of a larger trend that involves using AI to help first responders get an early handle on blazes.

The company says its FireScout detection technology is scanning live images from 80 high-resolution cameras that are part of a fire-watch network backed by Pacific Gas and Electric, a utility that has earned criticism and financial punishment for not doing enough to prevent the disasters. The fresh effort comes on top of a previous push to get more cameras out in the field in hopes that early detection will help officials control wildfires.

“The program is already proving to work,” said Bow Rodgers, president of FireScout, in a statement. “FireScout is monitoring more than 300 cameras across California for PG&E and other partners, and it has been accurately identifying smoke and where it is located.”

This new pilot program involving FireScout detection technology represents part of the Electric Program Investment Charge (or EPIC program).

As described by the company, that program “allows PG&E, other California investor-owned utilities and the California Energy Commission to execute emerging technology demonstration and deployment projects that will help customers now and into the future.”

Staff at the utility’s Hazard Awareness and Warning Center (HAWC) use the detection from FireScout and other tools to better understand wildfire risk and how the blazes could harm electric or gas infrastructure. The program also highlights how AI is becoming increasingly important to such efforts, especially as climate change increases the threat and costs of wildfires.

“Artificial intelligence is effective, with multiple fires already detected by FireScout ahead of PG&E’s first source of information,” said Jim Ridgway, manager at PG&E’s HAWC, in the statement. “Two vegetation fires, the Jericho Fire in Nevada County and the Willow Fire in Contra Costa County, were detected by FireScout 16 minutes ahead of other sources.”

Artificial intelligence and associated technology also helps officials better detect wildfire at night, according to the statement, which points to a recent study showing that nighttime fires are becoming more frequent and intense.

“The ability to detect fires around the clock is critical as our first line of defense, people, are often asleep,” said Rodgers.

This is hardly the only example of how this particular part of the gov tech industry is trying to rapidly evolve as wildfires promise to become even more dangerous and costly with climate change.

Oregon, for instance, is turning to more AI and data to better predict wildfires as officials all over the West Coast are generally leading the way in using those tools along with better digital mapping and other technology to limit wildfire damage.

The newer forecasting models, for instance, can include such factors as vegetation moisture level and expected rate of fire spread — well beyond typical metrics such as temperature, humidity and winds — as well as real-time detection and visualization.