On fire... tech to the rescue?

Published on
June 29, 2023
June 29, 2023

Heating up

Wildfires are becoming an increasingly bigger problem. While wildfires have always occurred naturally in various ecosystems, the changing climate is exacerbating their frequency, intensity, and duration in many regions around the world. Climate change can impact wildfires in various ways. The obvious things to think about are extreme weather patterns, drier conditions, and extended fire seasons, but climate change can also lead to pest outbreaks or changing vegetation patterns that in their turn lead to more flammable vegetation or dead trees that serve as fuel in fires.

This spring wildfire season of 2023 has been the worst on record in Canada.

Over 5m hectares of land has burned this year, which is more than 2016, 2019, 2020 and 2022 combined. This year, already more than 200 homes have been destroyed and warmer and drier months are still to come.

In California, the largest property and casualty insurer, State Farm, stopped issuing new home, business and casualty insurance policies, as the wildfire risks and construction costs in the state keep rising (and its hard to price the risk).

In Florida, insurers also worry about the rising climate risks and on top of that the legal system allows the insuree to sell insurance claims to a third-party attorney or contractor, who then is able to fight claims in court.

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The Cost to Fight Wildfires is Rising

The impact of wildfires reaches further than imagined.

Recent research showed that the colossal wildfires in Australia that burnt 46 million acres between June 2019 and January 2020, contributed to the rare triple La Niña weather event that impacted continents thousands of miles away. La Niña is an oceanic phenomenon characterized by the presence of cooler than normal sea-surface temperatures in the central and eastern tropical Pacific.

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Triple-dips in Seasonal Trends of The Oceanic Nino Index

Will the affected areas be able to rebuild? And more importantly, what can be done to prevent more and bigger fires in the future, while the earth keeps heating up.

Managing the Forest

Climate change with its accompanying risk of increased wildfire intensity and frequency will require adaptive forest treatment solutions and management strategies.

Forest treatment solutions encompass a range of practices and techniques that are used to manage and restore forests in order to address challenges like forest degradation, invasive species, wildfires, and climate change impacts.

Solutions range from forest thinning, prescribed burning, and forest pest management, to reforestation, and forest restoration. Silviculture, forest fire management, and sustainable logging practices are also part of Forest treatment solutions. These approaches aim to enhance forest health, productivity, and resilience, while at the same time promoting biodiversity, carbon sequestration, and sustainable resource management. The selection and implementation of these solutions depend on specific objectives, ecological factors, and local regulations.

On a global scale, forest treatment solutions are facing challenges. Insufficient funding and resources can hinder the implementation of effective treatments and limit the scale of forest restoration efforts. Inadequate policies and governance frameworks could create barriers to adopting and implementing comprehensive forest management strategies. The scale and fragmentation of forest landscapes can limit the effectiveness of treatments, as ecosystem processes extend beyond individual stands or ownership boundaries. And these are not the only challenges that are being faced. Limited availability of accurate data and knowledge gaps hamper decision-making and treatment efficacy.

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Tech to the rescue

Around the world numerous startups are working hard to reduce (the consequences of climate change.

What we are seeing in market are international training programs for early-stage researchers working on integrated fire management. It brings together scientists, policymakers, and practitioners to develop innovative solutions for wildfires; start-ups that combine artificial intelligence (AI) and satellite imagery to detect wildfires in their early stages. This kind of technology helps authorities respond faster to wildfires, improving containment efforts and reducing damage.

Another tech-based help for wildfire risks is fireball suppression systems that use high-pressure water mist to extinguish wildfires. Mobile apps are created providing real time information for users to access updates, evacuation orders and emergency warnings.

However, with all this tech coming onto the market, we’re not there yet. Another big problem lies in the shortage of labor and machinery when it comes to forest fire fighting.

Forest fire fighting is undesirable work. Roughly a third of the labor force is prison labor, who are induced to “volunteer” for this service via offers of expunging their criminal record. Remotely operated equipment can make the job safer and thus less undesirable. At the same time less workers will be needed, which will also have a positive impact on the costs. Leveraging new equipment, integrated with cloud-based software, allowing to make everything 100% traceable and able to provide valuable data. This will not only make forest management jobs safer but will also reduce GHG emissions by 20 MT per year.

In conclusion we can state that wildfire risk and damage are increasing but there is hope for the future. We are seeing a lot of tech responding to this major problem.

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