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Enhanced technology will help better predict wildfire movement, growth

VICTORIA – The BC Wildfire Service is expanding the use of wildfire predictive technologies.

“As the impacts of climate change evolve, so too must our ability to manage the threat of wildfires in our communities,” said Bruce Ralston, Minister of Forests, in a news release. “During a wildfire, every second counts as wildfire professionals deploy aircraft and firefighters to tackle blazes. By adding more technology to the BC Wildfire Service’s tool kit, our talented firefighters will be able to make critical decisions faster when it matters most.”

In advance of the 2024 wildfire season, B.C. is introducing technology that can produce real-time wildfire behaviour predictions and incorporate information directly from the field. This is aligned with feedback from the Premier’s Expert Task Force on Emergencies and follows last year’s successful trial of the software.

The wildfire predictive technology will first be introduced in the Coastal and Kamloops Fire Centres, where it has already been trialled to ensure compatibility with forest and fuel conditions. Following continued trials, refinements and staff training, B.C.’s remaining four regional fire centres will phase in the new wildfire predictive technology throughout 2024.

While wildfire predictive technology does not replace the experience and skills of qualified BC Wildfire Service staff, it provides wildfire decision-makers with more intelligence and more time to plan their operations. With this expanded level of intelligence, the BC Wildfire Service can even more proactively respond to wildfires, giving people more time to act during an emergency.

Wildfire growth modelling works by using data from weather models, topography and fuel maps. The technology being implemented by the BC Wildfire Service includes the ability to use existing geospatial data and fuel maps, but also uses an app-based interface to allow for on-the-ground inputs in real time. The technology includes an interface for field staff, operational decision-makers and fire behaviour specialists who each have a unique role to play in forecasting, resource planning and fighting wildfires.

Collaborative efforts with jurisdictions using similar technologies, including California and Australia, have allowed the BC Wildfire Service to quickly operationalize and expand the use of these tools.

“The availability of a common operating picture when facing rapidly evolving emergencies can be the difference between life and death,” said Thom Porter, task force member and former director of California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. “I’ve experienced first-hand the power of technology to transform the way response organizations work together to reduce impacts to communities and natural values. British Columbia’s investment in predictive technologies and sharing information among responders is an investment that will save lives, property and the environment in 2024 and beyond.”

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