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NBC: New Wildfire Path-Predicting Tech Updates First Responders in Real-Time

Excerpted from NBC San Diego

By Lexie Michel

As the Santa Ana winds roll in, fighting fires quickly and efficiently is of the utmost importance. San Diego may soon benefit from a new program helping firefighters on the ground make informed decisions.

Orange County Fire Authority launched its new Fire Integrated Real-Time Intelligence System (FIRIS) on Sept. 1 and has been flying successful pilot missions of the new tool.

The FIRIS system uses a plane equipped with infrared and radar sensors that can see through smoke to provide real-time perimeter mapping and live high definition video of wildfires. The aircraft is dispatched at the first report of smoke and has successfully flown missions over the recent Tenaja Fire in Murrieta and the Ortega and Fossil fires in Orange County.

The plane's data feeds a computer that predicts where wildfire will spread and communicates directly to first responders on the ground, as well as incident commanders, law enforcement, and regional and state emergency operation centers. This instant information allows for more timely and accurate decision making for resource distribution and evacuations.

“The ability to place resources exactly where they need to be to successfully battle a wildfire can mean the difference between lives and property saved or lost,'' said OCFA Fire Chief Brian Fennessy. “Technology is becoming increasingly important as we work to suppress wildfires quickly. We’re hopeful this pilot program may someday become a routine asset statewide.”

The 150-day FIRIS pilot program had its funding secured in the 2019-20 state budget by Assemblywoman Cottie Petrie-Norris (D-74).

“The State of California must shift strategies to address the constant crisis of wildfires – this is no longer a seasonal threat,” said Assemblywoman Petrie-Norris. “I am proud to have partnered with the Orange County Fire Authority in securing $4.5 million in state funds for technology that will protect lives and property by giving first responders better, stronger tools to use against the threat of wildfires.”

The pilot program is being managed by OCFA and available in Orange, Los Angeles, Riverside, San Diego and Ventura counties.