TechForest fires: how artificial intelligence helps to detect them earlier

Forest fires: how artificial intelligence helps to detect them earlier

Bouches-du-Rhone has just issued its first wildfire warning for this summer.

In times of heightened risk, early detection of fires is critical.

In addition to placing people on watchtowers, artificial intelligence can provide decisive assistance.

This is the first time the alert level has reached its highest level since the forest weather forecast was created last June. Bouches-du-Rhone was just declared red on Tuesday, while Vaucluse and Var were declared orange. It is the scientists of Météo France who determine this level of danger based on the criteria of temperature, wind, humidity and precipitation. The heat that had been recorded for several weeks and the presence of the Mistral and the Tramontana contributed to the alarm. Access to most forested areas will be banned, including the very touristy calanques between Marseille and Cassis.

Doctrine based on the speed of reaction

The French doctrine of intervention is based on the rapid attack of incipient fires. “For efficient processing in sectors with a high risk of fire”explains the National Observatory of French Forests, “The fire should have spread to less than one hectare when the first responders begin to extinguish it”. In times of high risk fire must be attacked “within 10 minutes of discovery”. This approach makes early detection essential, for which significant human and technical resources are put into action at the first alert.

Cameras on pre-existing high points

Aerial surveillance is deployed from aircraft and drones, as well as ground intervention patrols that allow for both detection and action. There are also countless personnel who take positions near the forests and at observation posts. From these watchtowers, installed in all vulnerable areas, firefighters tirelessly scan the canopy line for any signs of fire.

But increasingly, instead of human personnel, cameras are being installed, controlled by algorithms that greatly improve detection. They are often placed on pre-existing points such as water towers or EDF pylons without requiring new construction. But above all, they work 24 hours a day, scan the horizon 360° and are able to detect the disappearance of night lights.

PHILIPPE LOPEZ / AFP

Nevertheless, “these are not thermal imagers”, clarifies TF1info Eduard Buyo, technical director of a specialized company Paratronic. The principle of these optical cameras “this is smoke detection, not flame detection”he explains. According to him, they not only have a much greater range than thermal imaging cameras (or the human eye), but also prevent “false positives”. Thus, for a thermal imaging camera, a car with a hot engine can be mistaken for a fire and unnecessarily cause an alarm.

“From the Tower”Édouard Buyo insists, “The first information about a nascent fire is the smoke it produces”. In this way, detection is faster and intervention can be initiated before the fire spreads. Where artificial intelligence comes into play is in interpreting what is sometimes just a few pixels of a recorded image as smoke. This is the complexity of the algorithm underlying the software: “Define what smoke is”.

“Just like you sometimes use artificial intelligence to detect or even recognize someone in a photo, you use it here to detect smoke in a photo.”the engineer concluded. And vice versa, so as not to cause unnecessary alerts. These are several cameras that are installed at least two points to monitor the same area, allowing the software to compare the details of several images that are invisible to the naked eye.

The best localization of the beginning of the fire

Paratronic’s “ADELIE” detection system has been adopted by several French departments, where they have replaced observation posts. The cameras constantly scan the canopy, each within a radius of 20 km, and perceive any anomalies in front of a person. But above all, they improve alert triggering and relevancy.

Previously, the manager of the French company explains, observers had to call each from their place to the central station, which determined the place of the fire by comparing the data received. The operation is now centralized by the software, which can independently determine, following the same principle of triangulation, the exact starting point of the fire. Cameras under optimal conditions can also provide a direct estimate of the distance to a detected fire.

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The ADELIE system was installed in the Landes in 2007, then in Lot-et-Garonne, Hérault or more recently in Sarthe and soon after in Aude. Requests are starting to come in from other countries as the doctrine of rapid response gains ground due to global warming. As such, seven US states recently decided to install similar systems, noting that fires have become more intense, frequent and extensive over time. California Fire Department spokesman Robert Foxworthy summarizes the change in philosophy as follows: “The camera will always be there, and it is not guaranteed that there will always be a person with a phone in the right place”.


Frederic SENNEVILLE

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Source: TF1

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