California Harnesses AI in Wildfire Fight


With the wildfire season ramping up along the West Coast, the state of California is beginning to turn to artificial intelligence (AI) and other emerging technologies to help manage its response to the potentially devastating threats that the fires pose.

Even though California’s water supply has recovered from drought conditions due to abundant rain and snow, the 2023 wildfire season still could be intense because of more vegetative growth helped by the recovering water supply.

To meet that danger, the state has ramped up its use of AI technology and deployed satellites, cameras, drones, and real-time intelligence technologies to fight fires faster, and more wisely.

“In just five years, California’s wildfire response has seen a tech revolution,” said California Gov. Gavin Newsom. “We’re enlisting cutting-edge technology in our efforts to fight wildfires, exploring how innovations like artificial intelligence can help us identify threats quicker and deploy resources smarter.”

“And with the world’s largest aerial firefighting force and more firefighters on the ground than ever before, we’re keeping more Californians safer from wildfire,” the governor said. “While these resources will help protect our communities, Californians need to remain vigilant for what could be an intense wildfire season this year.”

As part of this endeavor, Gov. Newsom’s office said that the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE) is collaborating with Lockheed Martin to find ways to utilize military-grade technology to fight wildfires.

Some of the technologies that CAL FIRE is using include drone-based software, AI-enabled tools, analytics, and capabilities to provide information about ground and atmospheric conditions, as well as continuous communication capabilities to first responders and other fire personnel.

The Environmental Defense Fund is also collaborating with the state of California on utilizing low-earth orbit satellite technology in the firefighting effort. The state is also looking into a potential partnership to provide user input and feedback during system development, analyze sample and initial data from the system, and advance knowledge of satellite-based detection for wildland firefighting.

Other actions being undertaken include expanding the state’s Fire Integrated Real-time Intelligence System (FIRIS). The program was initially developed as a pilot program in Orange County, Calif., in 2019, which has since expanded for statewide operations. The program provides real-time data and analysis on impending disaster incidents in the state.