Arthur, wildfires have become a more serious threat to people and nature than ever before. Should we be worried?
Arthur Matuszczak: That is true that wildfires are becoming a very serious global issue. Climate change and weather anomalies have caused huge wildfires that have had disastrous consequences for our planet. They have claimed numerous lives of people and animals alike, and completely destroyed lots of buildings. Only in the US, there are over 4.5 million homes built in high or extreme wildfire risk zones. In the last couple years, we have also experienced wildfires in more “fire-resistant” areas, such as Alaska, Northern Europe, Siberia. Statistics show clearly that it is only going to get worse. During this wildfire season in Australia, the raging element has claimed over 26.4 million acres of land. Over 1.25 billion animals have died… It is simply terrifying.
Source: National Interagency Fire Center
What causes wildfires and can we avoid them?
A.M.: It is assumed that humans are responsible for over 80% of all the wildfires. It is us who directly and indirectly cause them. Sometimes, it is just an accidental spark from a bonfire, at other times – the infrastructure under human control is at fault, such as power lines. Globally, only a fraction of all wildfires is caused naturally, such as through a lightning strike.
Since it is humans who are the main cause of wildfires, we can do something to limit their number. If people were more careful and could predict some consequences of their actions, it would already have a major impact on the current situation. For example, if we stopped burning trash in an irresponsible way, there could be over 25% fewer wildfires!
Fire services do what they can, however, still a lot of wildfires get out of control and lead to major losses. How can we protect ourselves?
A.M.: That is right. Once someone notifies the fire services about a wildfire, they immediately proceed with putting it out. Unfortunately, the biggest problem occurs when the threat is not spotted in time. Wildfires can spread extremely fast on a windy day and if the fire services are not notified soon enough, putting the fire out can turn out to be very difficult. Interestingly, over 90% of all wildfires are reported by random people. They just call 911 and notify fire services about the location of the fire. What if no one spots the wildfire, though?
The success of a fire extinguishing action depends heavily on the time when first step is taken. The sooner a wildfire is spotted, the sooner it can be extinguished. However, we cannot be everywhere at any given time. That is why it seems reasonable to use modern technologies that can support people in such “spotting”.
Right! Your company has developed a product especially designed to detect wildfires over large areas at risk of wildfires. Can you tell us a bit more about it?
A.M.: Of course. Our team of awesome engineers and scientists has developed a special detector. It looks like a plain camera but in reality it is much more technologically advanced – the camera is just a tiny part of the whole thing! Our detectors utilize AI to detect wildfires as far as 10 miles away in a matter of minutes. And you can install them practically anywhere – on a roof or a pole. They operate 24/7 and once one of them detects smoke or flames, it automatically sends a notification to a user’s mobile phone.
So, your detectors can spot a wildfire that is even 10 miles away from where we have installed them?
A.M.: Exactly, that is how our SmokeD detectors work. They detect smoke and flames over a large area in a couple of minutes. Of course, the distance itself depends on certain factors, such as the terrain, weather conditions or whether the air is clear or not. If our detectors are installed in a good spot, they can detect smoke from even farther distances. Last year, some wildfires were spotted from far farther than 10 miles. In Mammoth Lakes, CA, our detector spotted a wildfire that broke out 23 miles away.
The Lost Fire was detected by the SmokeD early fire detection system on October 16, 2018, at 1:00 PM.
How big of a wildfire can your SmokeD detectors detect?
A.M.: Detecting a wildfire should be done before we can even call it a wildfire. Our goal is to detect wildfires the size of a small bonfire. If we managed to detect wildfires at such stages, they would not be that large of an issue currently.
Well, I can only wish you for SmokeD to gain popularity! I hope you can fulfill your mission of fighting wildfires!
A.M.: Thank you very much.