Josh Becker

Josh Becker

Bay Area innovators and experts in wildfire resilience spoke with state Sen. Josh Becker in an online town hall “Fight Fire with Tech” June 29 to discuss integrating technology solutions as California faces another wildfire season.

“Wildfire season is now two months or more longer than it even was just a few years ago,” Becker, D-San Mateo, said.

Last year, 4.2 million acres burned, five of the six largest fires in state history burned simultaneously.

“Every year, the risks of serious wildfires seem to increase. And this year, with temperatures reaching terrifyingly high heights like we've seen recently, we need to be as prepared as possible,” Assemblymember Marc Berman, D-Palo Alto, said.

In 2018, California’s Fourth Climate Change Assessment predicted there would be a 77% increase in acres burned by the end of the century. And there was a 1,500% increase in acres burned last year.

“So that prediction came through 80 years early,” Jessica Morse, deputy secretary for the Forest and Wildfire Resilience at the California Natural Resources Agency, said. “This is the confluence of climate change, which is a planetary impact, and also multiple generations of fire suppression and policy decisions that have led us to this point today.”

Jonathan Cox, deputy chief of the San Mateo County division of Cal Fire, said his division is using technology such as real-time data analysis, intel and rates of spread, and new technology such as drones and unmanned aerial systems as it hopes to fight these fires faster and warn people in advance.

“One of the most striking statistics for me that came out of last year was in one 24-hour period, more acres of the Santa Cruz Mountains were consumed by fire than the last hundred years combined,” Cox said, referring to the CZU Lightning Complex fires.

Cal Fire had to evacuate more than 77,000 people out of the Santa Cruz Mountains in a very short amount of time, he said.

David Buckley, vice president of Technosylva, a company leading in geographic information system mapping for wildland fire protection, planning, analysis and modeling and response, shared its focus on fire prediction and spread prediction to do proactive risk forecasting. And its fire response product focuses on integrating multiple incident hazard information.

“Last year, we had approximately 10,000 fires and every one of those was simulated multiple times. We estimate about 30.9 billion simulations were conducted last year with all the automation,” he said.

Data integration for the products such as alert wildfire cameras integrated into the environment, satellite hot spot data, field photos from first responders or emergency National Guard needs to be supported, he said.

“We’ve seen in the last couple of years that the time we have between the start of a fire and the need for evacuation is drastically shorter,” said Charlie Crocker, co-founder of Zonehaven, going over evacuation management.

Its platform and technology is about enabling first responders, the Office of Emergency Services and the public to understand before an event happens what an evacuation looks like and how they need to get people out of harm’s way, he said.

To do this, they aim to reduce the reflex time by making information accessible to communities by integrating with existing channels, schools and with the variety of notification systems.

Sonia Kastner, founder and CEO of Pano, shared one of its solutions called Peno Rapid Detect that combines mountain top cameras, satellites, artificial intelligence and data to increase the actionable intelligence in those early moments of a fire. Its goal is for fire authorities to share this information with each other broadly and very rapidly in the critical early moments of a fire, she said.

Max Brodie, co-founder and CEO of Rain Industries, said its mission is to contain wildfires within 10 minutes of ignition with autonomous drones dropping chemicals into the flames.

“The purpose of the rain system is to rapidly contain ignitions before growing out of control,” he said.

Sudarshan Sridharan, founder and CEO of Fion Technologies, a wildfire monitoring and prediction startup based locally in San Mateo County, talked about leveraging geospatial data and using machine learning to build software to help people understand and make better decisions around wildfires.

Its two proprietary deep learning models are a wildfire perimeter detection model, which scans satellite images of the Earth and a spread prediction model which forecasts where wildfires will spread given a starting perimeter, he said.

Becker hosted this event in the hopes that this would bridge the gap between the tech community and government entities to come together to find solutions in combating wildfires.

He also co-authored a bill, Senate Bill 804 with state Sen. Steve Glazer, D-Orinda, to establish forestry training centers. These centers would enhance the education, work experience and readiness for forestry and vegetation management jobs, and also particularly aim at helping formerly incarcerated individuals who qualify for these jobs. And he, along with Berman and others, recently passed a $1 billion package focused on wildfire prevention resilience.

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