Early wildfire detection sensors installed near Vernon, B.C.

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Sensors for early wildfire detection installed in Vernon
WATCH: An early wildfire detection pilot project is getting underway in the North Okanagan this week. A Vancouver company is installing their first sensors in the Vernon area – Dec 5, 2022

An early wildfire detection pilot project got underway in the North Okanagan on Monday.

Vancouver-based company SenseNet Inc. installed its first sensors in the Vernon, B.C. area.

The technology will collect information about environmental conditions and use it to pinpoint changes that could mean a blaze has sparked.

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The creators believe there will be an increasing need for this technology as fire seasons get worse and they hope the Vernon trial will show their sensor system works on a large scale.

Powered by solar energy and batteries, the devices are designed to collect information about environmental conditions including levels of different gases.

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Then an algorithm looks for anomalies in the data that might indicate a fire.

CEO Hamed Noori explained the system uses machine learning and artificial intelligence and can distinguish between the conditions created by a campfire and those created by a wildfire.

Around 20 sensors providing detection coverage to around 1,500 hectares are being installed in the Vernon area this week.

Chief Technology Officer Shahab Bahrami said detection times range from within a few minutes near the sensors to within a half-hour if a blaze sparks further from the devices.

An example of the area early wildfire detection sensors could cover once they are installed near Ellison Provincial Park. Courtesy: SenseNet Inc.

Once a fire starts, Noori said the technology can also tell officials what direction the fire is moving which could help with evacuation planning.

During the two-year Vernon pilot project alerts from the system will go to the local fire department which is partnering with SenseNet on the initiative and helped determine the sensor locations.

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Deputy chief of operations Alan Hofsink said high-risk areas along Eastside Road and around Predator Ridge were a priority as they are the densest interface areas.

Right now the city mainly relies on people spotting wildfires so it wanted to embrace this new technology to see if it could help.

“Early detection saves lives, (and) saves property,” said Hofsink.

“With this program, we are hoping to do a trial period and a test phase to see if the program works and help reduce the size and growth of a wildfire.”

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While this project is still a trial, the company is feeling confident based on previous tests.

Noori said Vernon is on a larger scale than previous pilots and the company hopes it shows the system works on a larger scale.

In the next month, a second larger phase of sensor installation is planned that will cover areas around Vernon and the nearby Okanagan Indian Band lands.

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