How Can We Use IoT Technology to Prevent Fires?

The Cold Colorado Winter Myth

When most people hear Colorado, they immediately think Rocky Mountains, luxurious ski resorts, snowy winters, and perhaps “medical marijuana.” However, the reality along the Front Range, spanning the area between Fort Collins, Denver & Colorado Springs, is an arid dry landscape. Of course we get snow, but it never really sticks around, and we have a surprising number of blue-skied, sun-filled 80-degree days.

Fire danger is becoming an increasing issue in Colorado, both during summer and winter. The landscape in the undeveloped parts of the Front Range is for the most part dry scrubland, and certainly fire friendly on dry winter days. For example, the stretches along Highway 93 & Indiana between Arvada and Boulder, are especially prone to this threat. Besides dryness, the frequent high winds are extremely conducive to spreading fire.

On February 21st The Denver Post posted “a red-flag warning for fire danger for northeastern Colorado on Tuesday, including along the Front Range — from the Wyoming state line to south of Castle Rock — and the entire Denver area.” The post went on to detail the hazards of gusty winds and how quickly a brush fire can escalate out of control. A few days before that article was written, these very hot, dry and windy conditions created a dangerous combination in the North Boulder area.

Video Footage

George Greenwood, a member of our Fathym team & volunteer fire fighter, recorded some incredible video footage of the brush fire and high winds. Click the links below to have a look:

 

The Data

To give an idea of the conditions during this time, here is some weather data taken from NCAR during that week. The first plot shows how the temperature climbed and the dew point dropped. The second plot shows how low the relative humidity was on the day that the temperature really soared. The fourth plot shows how windy it was around the temperature spike. All these factors work together to create dangerous fire conditions.

The following data below taken from our WeatherCloud weather station up in Nederland, Colorado, also shows similar wind speed data taken around the same time.

Current Weather Data Usage

Through Early Warning Systems, local weather data from high risk areas is gathered and monitored to predict and detect brush or forest fires, and trigger various precautions or emergency actions by government agencies and the general public. Currently the most extensive fire detection service in the US is the USDA Forest Service Active Fire Mapping Program, ‘an operational, satellite-based fire detection and monitoring program’ that provides near real-time detection and characterization of wildland fire conditions in a geospatial context.’ In this system, daily satellite flyovers connect with fixed ground stations which report back local conditions accurate to within 1km which are assessed for likelihood of fire conditions and pathways.

 

Full Coverage Weather Data

Across the globe relevant stakeholders and agencies are currently debating and developing optimal practices for fire detection and suppression. But how can the Internet of Things (IoT) improve fire Early Warning Systems? Through IoT sensors we can transform objects into data collection points and connect them to the internet. These sensors can be positioned on nearly any object imaginable. Through a mesh of stationary sensors (Environmental Sensor Stations and Smart Weather Stations) and mobile sensors (on vehicles for example), it’s possible to build up full coverage of local weather and atmospheric data. This data is then uploaded to cloud-based analytics software in real time. After being run through intelligent predictive forecasting algorithms, key data is streamed into a customizable dashboard which can trigger alerts when highly dangerous fire conditions or early signs of a fire occur.

Through hyper-local, real-time, actionable weather intelligence, it is possible to suppress or even prevent brush and forest fires. IoT technology, through full coverage of sensor data to actionable data dashboards, can enable authorities to react to and suppress potentially devastating forest fires faster and more effectively than has previously been possible. Through one data dashboard you could potentially track and monitor sensor readings over a large area while plotting incidents on a map and integrating with emergency service deployments. Hyper-local weather data readings offer the potential to significantly improve and optimize how agencies tackle the growing dangers of forest and brush fires.