University of California experts recently gathered for a wildfire symposium where they discussed new technology created to assist in wildfire events and the overall understanding of wildfires in the state.

Neal Driscoll, a professor in the Geosciences Research Division at UC San Diego, kicked off the symposium by demonstrating ALERTWildfire, an early alert confirmation and situational awareness tool.

ALERTWildfire has 842 state-of-the-art pan-tilt-zoom fire cameras that monitor wildfire activity across the state. The tool helps first responders and firefighters to confirm, locate and scale fire resources as needed.

The camera panels are able to time-lapse up to 12 hours to see the progression of the fires, which helps confirm fire ignition.

“On a clear day they can see 70 to 80 miles and at night with a near infrared they can see over 100 miles,” Driscoll said. “This network provides unparalleled ability to confirm 911 calls.”

He said if a 911 call comes in, ALERTWildfire can move the cameras to determine if there is ignition in an area, then they can proceed to scale their response.

Driscoll said they anticipate about 1,000 cameras throughout California by the end of this year or early 2022.

Redundancy is a good thing

Driscoll was asked how ALERTWildfire could ensure the alert systems won’t fail when they are needed most.

“We have redundancy, we have a number of pathways to bring the data back,” Driscoll said. “If one camera gets burnt over then we switch to another path, so we are constantly increasing the resilience of the system.”

Another panel at the symposium discussed how modeling, visualization and data could help to inform on risk assessments and decision-making.

One panelist, Ilkay Altintas, chief data science officer at San Diego Supercomputer Center, noted the use of a Firemap made by WIFIRE, a lab whose mission is to turn data, artificial intelligence and computing into a utility for advancing fire science and its application to practice, according to their website.

A Firemap is a tool that predicts the progression of fire perimeters and assists firefighters in effectively deploying resources on initial attacks.

The role of climate change

Alex Hall, a UCLA professor in the Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences and Institute of the Environment and Sustainability along with John Battles, professor and researcher at UC Berkeley, discussed the role that climate plays in wildfire behavior.

“Even in the most optimistic future conditions, temperature is going to continue to increase through time,” Battles said.

He said the consequence for fire is that it creates a huge influx of surface fuels as dead trees fall.

“The major concern is that this new surface fuel load can actually create new fire behavior … fire behavior we haven’t seen before,” Battles said. “Where we have these large massive heavy fuels that burn for days and create new fire physics.”

Various tools, research and data discussed at the symposium can be found online.