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Silicon Valley Hopes Tech Can Help Avoid Smoky Ruins

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With experts warning of a long, dangerous fire season, firefighters turn to technology to help battle blazes. 

The number of new wildfires is at a ten-year high already this year, according to federal data. The Great Basin region in Nevada, Utah, and eastern Oregon are of high concern. 

In California, nearly 5,000 wildfires have started since the beginning of the year, according to Cal Fire. Those blazes had scorched 115 square miles at the start of July. Compared to the same period in 2020, 3,847 fires consumed 48.6 square miles.

The sights of flames consuming entire communities are driving innovation to fight wildfires with technology.

According to The Mercury News, startup Lumineye is tweaking its product from military use to one that gives firefighters a hand-held device that uses radar to see people inside buildings.

“You’re looking for force multipliers,” Silicon Valley entrepreneur Steve Blank told the Mercury News. “How do we fight this exponential growth (in wildfires) without exceeding the gross domestic product of California?”

Blank is an investor in Rain, a startup making retardant-dropping drones. According to The Mercury News, Blank envisions a future where satellites detect wildfires as soon as they start. Then, AI software sends out firefighting drones. 

Cal Fire, along with other fire agencies, has already adopted AI, satellites, and drones and is examining other cutting-edge solutions.

San Bernardino County Fire Chief Dan Munsey told the newspaper not long ago, fire chiefs mainly relied on paper maps and ink markers. “The technology adoption we’ve seen over the last three years has exploded,” Munsey said.

Read more about new firefighting technology in The Mercury News