UKIAH, 11/2/23 – The City of Ukiah is following the State of California’s lead by attacking wildfires from the start – with artificial intelligence.
The State of California is investing millions of dollars in the use of artificial intelligence (AI) and wildfire cameras. The pilot program has cameras monitoring fire-prone areas throughout the state, providing 24/7 monitoring through AlertCalifornia, a camera system operated by the University of California, San Diego. As a result, Cal Fire and other first responders can mount a quick response from ground and air to attack wildfires.
The state’s over 1,000 cameras in the pilot program have detected 77 wildfires in the past four months before the fires were called in via 911. It was also recently named one of the best inventions of 2023 by TIME magazine. However there is one caveat: it isn’t monitoring the Ukiah Valley and surrounding areas, which over 104,000 Mendocino County residents call home.
As a result, the City of Ukiah and Ukiah Valley Fire Authority (UVFA) announced this week that it has launched its own early wildfire detection program using AI.
The city and UVFA contracted with Pano AI, a San Francisco-based company that provides fire jurisdictions real-time intelligence and situational awareness, to install four AI cameras to detect and report smoke around the Ukiah Valley. Pano AI operates systems in seven states, including Southern California, and Australia and Canada. This is the first installation of the Pano AI system in Northern California.
The four cameras operate continuously, scanning the surrounding area 360 degrees every minute. The cameras can detect fire starts in central Mendocino County ranging from the Pacific Ocean to Lake County, reporting fires to the UVFA often before 911 receives calls from eyewitnesses. As a result, fire jurisdictions, including Cal Fire, can respond in a timely manner from air and ground.
“Every minute matters when it comes to preventing catastrophic wildfires,” says UVFA Chief Doug Hutchison. “Early detection not only improves our ability to suppress [wildfires], but also holds a key role in substantially reducing suppression costs while better ensuring the safety of our skilled firefighters.”
According to Shannon Riley, Ukiah deputy city manager, Pano AI automatically alerts relevant staff at the city and UVFA when a fire is detected. The system allows staff to zoom in and collect exact location information on the fire start. Once the fire is confirmed and response begins, Pano AI can send alerts and mobile notifications to first responders so they have up-to-date information and time-lapse images on the fire’s location and movement. “It empowers them to respond to wildfire events with greater accuracy and control,” she says.
Unlike the AlertCalifornia wildfire cameras, which are publicly accessible via a website, the Pano system is only accessible to professionals. However, according to Riley, the temporary links can be provided to the public during active fire events, to allow the community to monitor fire activity.
For the mayor of Ukiah, Mari Rodin, protecting the community and providing a sense of security led to the investment. “The City of Ukiah places a high value on innovation, and this fire protection system uses leading-edge technology to help address one of our community’s biggest fears – catastrophic wildfire,” she says. “I’m proud that we’ve made this important investment in the safety and peace of mind of our friends, neighbors and businesses.”
While fire authorities are expanding their ability to prepare for wildfires, it’s important that you do, too. Learn how to create your own go-bag, in case you have to evacuate here and find tips on preparing for wildfires here.
Sarah Stierch covers wildfires, breaking news, and more for The Mendocino Voice. You can follow Stierch on Twitter and learn more about her work and donate to her directly at here. Contact Stierch at [email protected]. The Voice maintains editorial control and independence.