With wildfires becoming an ever more devastating annual phenomenon, it is in the whole planet's interest to spot them and respond as early as possible -- and the best vantage point for that is space. OroraTech is a German startup building a constellation of small satellites to power a global wildfire warning system, and will be using a freshly raised €5.8 million ( $7 million) A round to kick things off. Wildfires destroy tens of millions of acres of forest every year, causing immense harm to people and the planet in countless ways. Once they've grown to a certain size, they're near impossible to stop, so the earlier they can be located and worked against, the better. But these fires can start just about anywhere in a dried out forest hundreds of miles wide, and literally every minute and hour counts -- watch towers, helicopter flights and other frequently used methods may not be fast or exact enough to effectively counteract this increasingly serious threat.
As devastating wildfires rage throughout the American West, fire agencies across the region are turning to cutting-edge technologies from supercomputers generating near-real-time fire maps to fireball-dropping drones to enhance the way they respond to these disasters. Fires are still won and lost through grueling work on the field and relatively low-tech tactics such as burning strategic areas close to the edge of an active fire to slow or stop its progress and spraying water and foam to slow the blazes. The best tools are often simple ones: saws, bulldozers, water hoses. However, with climate change contributing to more frequent, more severe and larger blazes that threaten humans, infrastructure and natural resources at unprecedented levels, response and suppression methods need to evolve. Innovations are providing firefighting crews with extra tools to detect, contain and even extinguish fires faster and with greater safety.
This year, wildfires in California alone have burned more than 3.8 million acres, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, or Cal Fire, which has been leading many firefighting efforts in the state. Since mid-August, at least 29 people have died. And wildfires continue to burn. This week, the Glass Fire in California's wine country prompted mandatory evacuation orders for Calistoga, a city of more than 5,200. Fire prediction tools are helping officials in the area and across the state gain greater visibility into how big a fire might get and where it might be headed, said Geoff Marshall, a division chief in Cal Fire's Predictive Services program.
Los Angeles Fire Department staff look at a new fire prediction tool, powered by supercomputers. Los Angeles Fire Department staff look at a new fire prediction tool, powered by supercomputers. The deadly blazes burning in California have put a spotlight on the crucial role of evacuation. In the moments after a wildfire begins, firefighters must predict where a fire will spread to save lives. Now, California firefighters are getting some help from a powerful new tool: supercomputers.
As climate change-driven wildfires continue to wreak havoc around the world, artificial intelligence, satellites, and drones are emerging as a potential solution to this problem. Despite repeated warnings from the scientific community about the gravity of the issue, our greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise year after year, resulting in deadly heatwaves, devastating wildfires, severe droughts, and powerful hurricanes. While these extreme weather events once used to be few and far between, they've become more frequent and lethal in recent years, a direct consequence of climate change. According to Munich Re, one of the world's leading insurance companies, weather and climate events killed more than 4,000 people worldwide and caused around $42 billion in insured losses in 2019. Wildfires in particular have become increasingly destructive in recent years.