New Tech to Combat Rising Wildfires in Canada

  • Canada’s 2023 wildfire season surpassed the country’s previous record in terms of the affected area.
  • Innovative technologies are being deployed to combat this rising trend of wildfires.
  • AI-equipped sensors have been developed to monitor critical environmental variables.
  • The Canadian Space Agency is developing the world’s first satellite dedicated to monitoring wildfires.
  • A less ‘advanced’ technology, but still very important, is practical tools like interactive dashboards and websites.

In 2023, Canada saw an ultimate high of wildfires after a decade of increasing frequency and intensity. The 2023 wildfire season had over 6,500 reported incidents that affected over 18 million hectares of land, surpassing the country’s previous record of 7.6 million hectares. Drivers for this spike were climate change and evolving environmental conditions. To combat this rising trend of wildfires, which devastate air quality and land, innovative technologies are being deployed. They can not only predict such devastating natural events but also prevent and manage them more effectively.

Technologies in development

1. Artificial Intelligence (AI) and sensor technology

Companies like SensaioTech have developed AI-equipped sensors to monitor critical environmental variables, including soil temperature, humidity and luminosity. These sensors provide real-time data, enabling more accurate predictions and quicker responses to potential wildfire threats. This real-time monitoring is a significant improvement over traditional satellite imagery, which often has a delay of several days​.

Rogers Communications, in partnership with Pano AI and SpaceX, is in the process of deploying AI-powered cameras that can detect smoke up to 20 km away. Using a 5G network, the cameras provide real-time alerts to first responders to check the spread. This technology focuses more on remote locations where early detection is crucial​.

2. Satellite advancements

The Canadian Space Agency is developing WildfireSat, the world’s first satellite dedicated to monitoring wildfires. Unlikely to be launched before 2029, the satellite is being programmed to provide detailed data during peak wildfire instances, which will help emergency services study the trends and triggers for fire activity to better predict and manage wildfires. This initiative aims to bridge the gap in current satellite data, which often misses critical moments of fire activity​.

3. Predictive modeling

The province of British Columbia has faced the brunt of wildfire occurrences in Canada, causing it to give wildfire technologies a higher priority than other provinces.

The British Columbia Wildfire Service has been using advanced predictive modeling to forecast wildfire growth and intensity. Much like the AI sensor technology, these models consider various factors, including weather conditions and terrain, to predict the potential spread and impact of wildfires. This allows for more strategic deployment of firefighting resources and better preparation for wildfire seasons​.

4. Interactive planning tools for residents

A less ‘advanced’ technology, but still very important, is practical tools like interactive dashboards and websites that provide tools and guidance to residents to prepare comprehensive emergency and evacuation plans, enhancing community resilience against wildfires​.

Technology use compared to US

Compared to other countries, Canada experiences a significant number of wildfires annually, but it ranks behind countries like the US and Australia in terms of the total area burned and the number of fires. For instance, the US sees an average of 70,000 wildfires per year, burning over 2.5 million hectares, whereas Canada typically records around 7,300 wildfires, affecting about the same area. This area is considerably lower if we take into account the larger uninhabited land mass that Canada has when compared to other countries.

When it comes to technological integration, Canada is making notable progress but still lags behind some countries. The US, for example, has been quicker to adopt advanced wildfire management technologies, leveraging AI, satellite imagery and drones extensively. However, Canada is catching up with initiatives like WildfireSat and partnerships involving AI-powered detection systems. The slower integration is also due to a restraint on available resources in the more barren landscape, which makes it difficult to get these technologies to cover a larger area in remote places.

Impact of wildfires on Canada

These technological advancements are crucial as Canada faces increasingly severe wildfire seasons. Rising global temperatures and decreasing humidity levels have created conditions that foster more frequent and intense wildfires. The past decade alone has seen some of the worst wildfire seasons on record, with significant economic and environmental impacts​.

While wildfires in Canada pose a growing threat, the integration of advanced technologies offers hope for better management and mitigation. From AI and satellite technology to predictive modeling and community planning tools, these innovations are essential in the ongoing battle against wildfires. As traditional wildfire management methods are becoming less dependable, embracing these new technologies will be critical in protecting communities and preserving Canada’s vast forested landscapes. Further, providing effective connectivity across Canada will aid in the quick development of these technologies. This is why we are seeing a rise in telecom player interventions over this issue, like Rogers deploying AI-powered cameras on its already existing towers to detect smoke.

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