Emergency calls in wildfire detection – things you may not know

29 Gru 2020

Fire has always been an integral part of nature and in some cases, it is essential to preserve the natural character of an ecosystem. The fire we fight causes wildfires that devastate buildings, roads, even the entire cities, and which claim human lives. Because people all over the world are well aware of this danger, we have been developing solutions to minimize the impact these destructive forces have on our safety.

Wildfire Detection Methods

The most serious problems with wildfires arise when they start in uninhabited areas, particularly very early in the morning or at night. Such wildfires are noticed and reported only once they reach a human settlement and often – by random passersby. By that time it is usually too late to protect local communities from suffering any potential losses.

Prevention, fast detection, and prompt extinguishing are key to our safety. Effective detection means that a wildfire is spotted at its early stages and that it is accurately pinpointed on a map. Therefore, fast detection, pinpointing the threat, and an immediate report to fire services guarantee that a wildfire can be extinguished in a timely manner.

Even though there are many fire detection methods being used all over the world, ranging from the oldest system – Fire Lookout – to planes and satellites designed to detect fire, the majority of wildfire reports come from random passersby. And it is a rather substantial majority, amounting to over 90% of all the reports submitted in form of emergency calls. 

 Emergency Calls

An example of a devastating wildfire detected by a random passerby is Camp Fire (2018). It was reported by a PG&E employee, you can listen to the report here: https://www.ktvu.com/news/911-camp-fire-calls-reveal-confusing-and-chaotic-moments.

As you can hear from the recording, there are some issues with reporting such cases via telephone:

  • understanding all the information can be difficult due to the extreme emotions of the passerby;
  • fire services can be swarmed with multiple reports of the same wildfire;
  • it can be difficult to pinpoint the location of the person reporting the wildfire…
  • …as well as the location of the wildfire itself;
  • assessing the scope and threat of the wildfire is very subjective and difficult.

It should also be mentioned that if a wildfire is reported by people living in the area of occurrence, it means it has already reached local settlements. People start to panic, nearby towns have to be evacuated, private and public properties are damaged – not to mention the possible casualties. However, due to the density of urban areas and people traversing through large terrains, reports from random passersby are the most important wildfire detection method. The rule is simple – the more people are out there, the higher the chances are that a threat can be spotted and reported fast. Unfortunately, this method fails in areas with lower population density, or when the threat occurs at night.

Authors: Magdalena Bącler, Artur Matuszczak