Firefighters innovate, change tactics amid historic CA wildfires

SACRAMENTO -- 2020 was the most destructive year of wildfires on record for the state of California.

More than four million acres burned and experts fear that 2021 may be worse.

But CAL FIRE is hoping that some first-of-its-kind technology and innovations may transform the way they fight fires forever.

In Sacramento, the new computer program developed with Technosylva Wildfire Analyst Enterprises is just starting to be utilized by CAL FIRE crews.

"Some of the stuff that we end up doing is we actually look at risk forecasts across California," CAL FIRE Chief of Predictive Services Geoff Marshall said. "What the program does, it overlays millions of potential ignitions across California and tells us about what the potential is for a fire in that area. It puts everybody on the same picture. So, the engine or the incident commander that actually goes into the fire, we can actually run simulations before he actually gets there. So he has an idea about what that fire is going to do before he even gets there and start making plans. They can start looking out two, three, eight hours ahead of time. It gives them that idea of like, 'hey, I need to order resources sooner.' One of the layers that we can pull in is that housing layer and that population layer. So, if we do have a fire, we can actually see where those homes are in order to protect people's homes and actually evacuate them out of those areas. In general, it helps protect, not only the firefighters, but also helps protect the people in California."

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Other innovations include an integrated fire camera network that gives crews on the fire lines the latest information.

"This is something that we're pioneering here in California," CAL FIRE Battalion Chief of Communications Jon Heggie said. "We're typically on the forefront of wildland firefighting and this new technology is definitely contributing to us being that leader in this arena. Wildfires in California are something that we have seen increase over the last 10 years. And it's something that we just need to live with and be prepared for."

"California is one of the most, if not the most, progressive fire department for CAL FIRE," Chief Marshall said. "With this new information technology and looking at some of the stuff that's coming into the future, and we're just starting to get a taste and ideas about what we might be actually able to see in the next few years, I am very optimistic that this new technology will actually help assist us in the safety of the firefighters, along with help protect the people in California."

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