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In Calif., PG&E Installs AI Cameras to Detect Wildfire Smoke

Thus far, Pacific Gas and Electric Company has installed 46 AI-equipped cameras in areas of California that are at high risk of wildfires. The technology is supposed to help the company detect smoke before fires spread.

California wildfires at night
Shutterstock/Mikhail Roop
(TNS) — PG&E has installed a dozen cameras equipped with artificial intelligence in San Luis Obispo County as part of a statewide effort to attempt to prevent the kind of devastating wildfires that ravage California each year.

During "extremely dry, hot and windy weather, being able to differentiate wildfire smoke from fog and other false indicators is invaluable" to analysts and fire agencies, PG&E said in a news release.

In response, the utility company is testing a growing network of high-definition cameras across northern and central California that would keep an eye out for smoke and alert PG&E analysts and fire responders when it is spotted, according to the release.

Then those analysts can use the video and data collected to help pinpoint where it is coming from, what type of fire it is and who else needs to be notified, PG&E said.

"Even with the two significant rainstorms in October and November, we are still in a historic drought and California, along with other western states, continue to experience an increase in wildfire risk and a longer wildfire season," PG&E chief risk officer Sumeet Singh said in the release. "We are using every new tool and technology at our disposal to improve situational awareness and intelligence to help mitigate and prevent wildfires, including this new AI capability."

"Every bit of data and intelligence that comes to us could potentially save a life," Singh added.

PG&E says the program has already been useful in watching for fires.

On Aug. 4, the company's Howell Mountain 1 camera spotted smoke one minute before fire dispatch. That blaze later became the River Fire.

To date, PG&E has installed 487 HD cameras across so-called "high fire-threat districts." Of those, 46 are equipped with the AI testing program.

According to PG&E spokesman Mark Mesesan, 28 wildfire cameras have been installed in San Luis Obispo County as of Thursday, and 12 of those feature AI technology.

In Santa Barbara County, 14 cameras have been installed, two with artificial intelligence.

PG&E said it hopes to install 600 cameras across California by the end of 2022.

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