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AI Predicting Wildfire Behavior

September 6, 2023

21

An article recently featured in the Daily Dispatch highlights the utilization of drones, satellites, and artificial intelligence (AI) in combatting wildfires by predicting fire behavior. AI shows promise as a valuable tool for assisting first responders in comprehending the progression of active blazes. However, predicting fire behavior still has a long way to go. The 2020 California wildfires illustrate how past fire behavior may not provide an accurate basis for predicting fire development, primarily due to the altered conditions caused by climate change.

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Learn about AI predicting wildfire behavior in the latest episode of WFCA’s Fire Headlines Podcast featuring Dr. Kate Kapalo from Western Fire Chiefs Association.

AI Predicting Wildfire Behavior

An article recently featured in the Daily Dispatch highlights the utilization of drones, satellites, and artificial intelligence (AI) in combatting wildfires by predicting fire behavior. AI shows promise as a valuable tool for assisting first responders in comprehending the progression of active blazes. However, predicting fire behavior still has a long way to go. The 2020 California wildfires illustrate how past fire behavior may not provide an accurate basis for predicting fire development, primarily due to the altered conditions caused by climate change.

One equation, that is intended to help fire bosses understand fire behavior, is the FARSITE system. However, its creator, Mark Finney, said the equation “has an awful lot of assumptions in it. We’re getting there. Nature is a lot more complicated. There are still a number of mysteries on fire behavior, and we don’t have a roadmap to follow that tells us whether or not this is good enough for on-the-ground use.”

Chiefs Bob Horton and Jeff Buchanan spoke with Dr. Kate Kapalo, the Senior Research Scientist and Assistant Director of WFCA’s Applied Sciences Center, about when this technology should come into play.

Fire Service Advancing in Technology

Chief Horton begins this conversation by recalling his start in the fire service in the early 2000’s a time when advanced technology like this wasn’t accessible to help fire personnel in making informed decisions. At the start of his career, fire crews were notified by the 911 center that they were needed at a location and were forwarded the mapping coordinates. It wasn’t until they were approaching the scene and saw flames that they knew it was a call for a working fire. This speaks to the significant advancements the fire service has made over the last decade and underscores its ongoing progress. Today, many agencies are utilizing AI and machine learning so that firefighters can get the best information at the appropriate time in order to produce the best possible outcome.

When to use Technology

Dr. Kapalo’s background in human factors and ergonomics helps her understand what the limitations of human cognition are and how tools, such as computers or emerging technologies, can be used as support. For fire ground incident command, a lot of decisions made are intuitive because of their experience in handling this type of situation. Dr. Kapalo tries to find the critical points of decision-making, aligning with the ongoing work at the Applied Sciences Center. This area of focus is driven by the remarkable transformations occurring within the wildland-urban interface (WUI).

“We’re seeing incidents that you have never seen before in your 30-year career. What we really want to do is take a crack at understanding where are those decisions so that we can help support, we can use technology to help support because adding more sensors, adding more data, isn’t going to be effective because humans can only take in so much information at a time.” states Dr. Kapalo. Contrary to the myth many people believe, agencies like the Applied Sciences Center are not looking to use AI to replace humans, instead they are looking to use AI and machine learning to support incident command in doing what they do best.

Connect with Dr. Kate Kapalo on LinkedIn at www.LinkedIn.com/in/KateKapalo.

You can email Fire Headlines at [email protected].

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