CalFire’s AI Fire Detector Named One of the Best Inventions of the Year

Cal Fire has earned national recognition for its cutting-edge technology aimed at combating wildfires. Time magazine has honored the agency’s fire detection artificial intelligence (AI) program as one of the best inventions of 2023, acknowledging its role in transforming firefighting efforts.

“I know a lot of people within our department and our programs at UC San Diego and Alert California have put a lot of hard work and time and hours into making sure this program is successful,” said Andrew Emerick of Cal Fire.

Time magazine’s recognition places this advanced tool among 200 exceptional inventions that have the potential to make a profound impact on people’s lives. Here is what Time Magazine wrote about eh program:

Detecting wildfires before they spread is a challenge now plaguing much of the world. University of California San Diego’s public safety program, AlertCalifornia, is employing AI to help. Working with Cal Fire, the program trained AI to detect smoke and other early indications of fire on a feed from a network of more than 1,050 cameras placed in forests across the state. When the system spots something, it alerts the local fire department via text message. In the first two months, the system had correctly identified 77 fires before any 911 calls came in. “The greatest success stories of this [system] are the fires you never hear about,” says Falco Kuester, co-principal investigator at AlertCalifornia.

The AI program, specifically designed for early fire detection and rapid response, is already proving its effectiveness throughout California. It owes its success to a network of over 1,000 strategically positioned cameras, each equipped to detect signs of smoke columns.

“These cameras take photos, panoramic photos, every one to two photos,” explained Emerick. “The system shoots to recognize differences between the photos.”

When the AI identifies a potential sign of smoke, it promptly notifies the command center, allowing responders to investigate further. This proactive approach was particularly evident in a populated area of Grass Valley on September 11.

“The AI did catch that fire well before 9/11,” Emerick confirmed.

In many instances, this program can detect smoke up to an hour earlier than traditional methods, providing valuable time in the firefight.

“Hopefully [it will help] prevent some of that destruction we’ve seen over the last three to four years,” said Emerick.

Active NorCal

Telling the Stories of Northern California

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