Understanding Wildfires

Our scientists at BreezoMeter pioneered a unique way to provide live air quality reporting during wildfire events, even when the sensors go down. But the threat presented by wildfires goes far beyond short or long-term smoke exposure:  Wildfires spark and escalate unpredictably, posing risk to life and huge-scale destruction for those without timely wildfire information when they need it most.

 

What you’ll find in this eBook

We wanted to develop a better way to assist both individuals and businesses with new, actionable wildfire intelligence.

In this eBook, we present the details of our unique wildfire tracking solution: Why we created it, how it works, and recommended use cases for organizations and businesses looking to make use of this life-saving information.

Based on the definitions of size, fire season length, increasing temperatures, and destruction, wildfires are a growing problem around the world: 

 

Wildfires are Getting Larger

 

Six of California's largest fires in history ignited in 2020 - and halfway through 2021, more than twice as many acres had burned than during the same period the previous year. 

 

These trends aren’t unique to the USA: In Spain, wildfires now raze an average of 100,000 hectares of land annually, nearly double the average from 40 years ago and in 2021, a Cyprus wildfire was labeled the ‘most destructive in the island’s history’ claimed over 12,355 acres of forest just days after starting.

 

Extreme Weather Makes Wildfires More Likely 

 

As droughts become more common, so too do adjacent heat waves, creating the perfect conditions for wildfires to ignite and spread. 


In the summer of 2021, residents across Canada and the Pacific Northwest grappled with record-breaking heatwaves of the likes they’d never seen before.  The village of Lytton, which recorded the country’s highest temperature, 49.6C (121.3F), was destroyed as soaring temperatures and lightning strikes ignited wildfires that spread rapidly.

Extreme weather
It’s Now ‘Fire Years’, Not ‘Fire Seasons’ 

 

Lengthening fire seasons are closely linked to climate change as winter snowpacks melt earlier and forests’ dry periods are stretched longer. 

 

Research based on 35 years of meteorological variables has revealed fire seasons around the world are getting longer. In California, a 2020 study found the number of autumn days with extreme fire weather has more than doubled since the early 1980s due to climate change.

 

 USDA Forest Service employees have been forced to reconfigure their approach to wildfires to ensure maximum wildfire readiness all year round.

Without access to smarter wildfire intelligence and response mechanisms, the current level of destruction caused by wildfires is likely to become worse over time:

 

Direct Loss of Life: The WHO estimates wildfires and volcanic activities affected 6.2 million people between 1998-2017 and directly caused 2400 direct attributable deaths worldwide - we must prevent these numbers from rising.


Hidden Deaths from Smoke Pollution: The direct death toll from western U.S. fires in 2020 was at least 43, but researchers believe the indirect death toll due to smoke inhalation was in the thousands. Hospital admission figures support this: Southern California saw hospital admissions for respiratory problems like asthma and pneumonia rise by 10% during fire season.


Lost Homes & Buildings: Wildfires are frequently measured in terms of hectares burnt, but many argue we should measure impact in terms of lives and building structures lost. Since 2005, it is estimated the USA alone has lost more than 89,000 structures - 17,663 of which occurred in 2020 (!)


graph

 

(Source: Headwater Economics)
 
Huge Financial Burden - Everyone Loses: It’s estimated California spends at least $2.5 billion each year on CAL Fire fighting alone - but experts peg the economic toll of the 2020 fire season to be around the $10 billion mark. Costs are rising.
 
Beyond firefighting, Reuters estimates the burden to property insurers from lost property and goods in 2020 in the western USA to be in the staggering range of $7 - $13 billion.
 
Predicting these costs to rise further, insurers are now starting to exclude high-wildfire risk properties from their coverage.
 
Loss of Essential Services: Just when residents and businesses need access to actionable information the most, wildfires take essential infrastructure offline. 
 

During the 2020 wildfires in New South Wales, Australia - the National Broadband Network (NBN) and the local ABC radio transmitter both went out of service - leaving many residents cut off from important communication.

 

In 2020, the major US utility firm PG&E cut power to more than 50,000 homes as part of its ‘de-energization' wildfire prevention plan. They have now committed to spending $9.5 billion on wildfire mitigation by 2022.

As wildfire behavior is so dynamic, this makes it hard to track in real-time. The facts on the ground change depending on the exact land terrain, temperature, wind speed, level of moisture in the air, and other meteorological factors  It’s even possible for the smoke pollution of one wildfire to trigger lightning strikes which can then ignite new fires (!)

 

Fire Monitoring Today

 

There are many wildfire monitoring services that are free to the public which is helpful to a point, but these sources are often limited in terms of presenting the exact location of a fire, its extent, and its movement in real-time. 

 

For the individual on the road planning their escape route, or an emergency services responder, it’s not enough just to know that there is a fire ‘in the vicinity' of their area. In order to take real informed action, they need to know exactly where it is in relation to them, and how it is moving.

 

This is exactly the problem BreezoMeter set out to solve: By applying our combined scientific, product, and technological expertise, we’ve developed a comprehensive, highly visual, and easy-to-understand live wildfire tracking solution - granular enough to protect property and save lives in the real world.

 

 

How We Do It: Multi-Data Sources, Fire Clustering & Smoke Modeling

 

For wildfire monitoring, the more data you have to feed into your model, the more accurate and timely the information is likely to be. This is the logic that underpins BreezoMeter’s approach:

 

 

BreezoMeter Fire Illustration

Step 1: We collect data from hundreds of various different sources - including multiple polar-orbiting and geostationary satellites, integrate live reports of fires from local sources and governments, and factor landcover and terrain intelligence to understand where exactly a wildfire is burning.

 

We also consider meteorological conditions like rain and wind to learn about the direction of the smoke, as well as chemical processes that alter the types and presence of pollutants downwind of a fire.

 

Step 2: We use advanced spatial and temporal modeling to remove false-positive events in real-time, making sure the data is highly accurate.

 

Step 3: Our unique fire data fusion algorithms help us interpret and integrate the processed data from various sources and to create highly visual wildfire perimeters, which can be delivered over our air quality heatmaps or other map providers.

 

Step 4: We present all relevant information about a particular wildfire in a specific location: Name, size, containment rate, status, cause, and more. This additional context can be delivered in the form of alert notification, or as additional information to accompany the map visualization.

 

fire alert-1

 

The End-Result

The innovation and progress we’ve made in the area of wildfire tracking mean individuals, businesses and organizations now have many more options available to them: 

  • Dynamic Perimeter Tracking: As wildfires move, BreezoMeter creates a polygon-shaped outline around the fires representing the total area that will be consumed by wildfire flames. If the fire movement changes, so do the perimeters.

  • Custom fire alerts: Personalized alerts notifying users of fires in their vicinity up to a radius of 19-62 miles from their exact location.

  • Live Smoke Reporting & PM2.5 Heatmaps: Hourly-updated air quality reports to track moving wildfire smoke - and dedicated PM2.5 visualizations to isolate wildfire causes for pollution.

  • Detailed Wildfires Information: Choose a fire of interest and receive in-depth information including wildfire boundaries, distance, and direction from starting position, fire name, start date, size, speed, the main direction of spread, and more! 

BreezoMeter is the only provider that presents wildfire boundaries and air quality movement side by side! 

 

Wildfire Perimeter tracking

 

BreezoMeter's groundbreaking wildfire intelligence can be used by individuals and businesses to safeguard lives, protect property and limit damage. Here are a number of recommended use cases for our wildfire intelligence: 

 

a) Take Proactive Action to Protect People, Infrastructure, Goods & Vehicles:

 

By understanding exactly where a wildfire’s boundaries are, an early response can be taken before risk to life and property escalates. BreezoMeter’s wildfire perimeter reporting can be used in combination with customized warning alerts with tailored recommendations for action, based on the receiver:

Wildfire Tracking

b) Prioritize Emergency Response Based on Facts on the Ground 

 

As new wildfires ignite and move rapidly during hot and dry seasons, BreezoMeter’s wildfire intelligence can help healthcare services and emergency response units understand where to expect a high level of service demand and prioritize accordingly. 

 

Ambulance Response

 

c) Communicate Safe Through or Escape Routes

 

By integrating dynamic wildfire perimeter visualizations into HMI dashboards or connected apps, automotive and smart mobility OEMs can help drivers, service providers and residents navigate away from or through a wildfire zone in a safe way, and initiate air filtration protocols.

 

Group 4694

By combining wildfire perimeter information with weather, air quality, and other traffic conditions information, it’s also possible to develop risk road indexes designed to inform better route planning overall. 

 

d) Validate Insurance Claims & Reduce Payouts

 

By helping individuals to understand when there is an imminent threat to property or an individual’s health from a wildfire, insurance companies can work to safeguard customers and lower health-related and/or property-related insurance payouts by encouraging protective action.

 

To give an example, by warning a known COPD patient of a nearby wildfire outbreak as it occurs, insurers can play the role of protector: Advising the individual to relocate somewhere else or to protect their indoor space from smoke pollution, depending on the scenario.    

 

By understanding the exact boundaries a wildfire has affected, insurers also have increased intelligence on hand to be able to automate and validate insurance claims.

 

e) Create Premium App Experiences with Dramatic Wildfire Visualizations

 

BreezoMeter's dramatic wildfire and smoke pollution visualizations are the perfect fit for consumer-focused apps looking to move beyond ‘nice to have features, increase engagement, and monetize their experiences.

 

In particular, weather apps can help contextualize existing information by showing the full environmental picture and improving the overall user experience: If a temperature is going up at a particular location, users today are increasingly expecting to see how this reality connects to wildfire events and air quality around them.

 

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Ready to Try BreezoMeter’s Wildfire Tracking?

Our live-saving wildfire tracking features are already available to test via our live air quality map and app. If you’re a business looking to try out the APIs for your own, you can request a free demo below: