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  • Ben Jones

How California can Save over $1bn per year in Wildfire Emergency Response Costs

Updated: Feb 6

New ‘ultra-early’ detection technology can significantly reduce emergency wildfire suppression costs by detecting wildfires within minutes

detection speed difference

California allocated an estimated USD 1.2 billion on emergency wildfire suppression in the 2021-22 season, despite the fact that new ‘ultra-early’ wildfire detection technology is available that can eliminate all emergency wildfire suppression costs and permanently halt wildfires from spreading for just 3% of this cost.

Emergency wildfire suppression refers to the resources needed for firefighting operations after the first 24 hours that a fire is active. Using solar-powered gas sensors and an IoT network within the forest, new ultra-early detection technology can detect smoldering vegetation within minutes and alert local firefighting resources so that the fire can be extinguished before it spreads, therefore eradicating the need for these resources.

The current slow pace of investment in this new technology could be down to the way in which wildfire management funds are currently allocated. Despite the fact that wildfire detection methods have not been updated for nearly a decade, the majority of funds are directed into prevention (prescribed burns and forest management) and suppression (firefighting resources).

This approach to wildfire management funding is becoming more costly as wildfires increase in size, severity, and frequency. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), “wildfires and volcanic activities” affected 6.2 million people between 1998-2017 with 2,400 attributable deaths worldwide from suffocation, injuries, and burns – figures that will increase exponentially because of climate change.

And today, California’s overall firefighting bill reaches $2.5 billion per year – a figure that does not include the broader economic costs of the State’s wildfires, which have risen to $10 billion per year for the last 4 years, up from $1 billion every year for the last half-century.

This cost, along with the number of people affected, could be greatly reduced if California, and other US States, channelled investment into improving wildfire detection. Using Wildland-Urban Interface (WUI) data – the high-risk wildfire zones located between wilderness and developed areas – Dryad Networks (Dryad) calculated the cost to deploy its Silvanet system in these areas to prevent wildfires from spreading.

If Dryad’s hardware was deployed across California’s entire 7.3 million acres of WUI, the one-off cost would be approximately USD 36 million – over 33 times less than the State pays to cover emergency fire suppression annually. The figures work from the minimal density of sensors required across the WUI, at 0.08 sensors per acre.

When these figures are extrapolated across the whole of the US’ 192 million acres of WUI, wildfire protection using Dryad would cost USD 947 million - less than a third of the USD 3.5 billion the US currently spends on emergency suppression. Other ‘at risk’ areas could also benefit from this technology.

Results across top 5 ‘at risk’ States:

cost of protecting at risk US states from wildfires using Dryad's Silvanet

“A new approach for wildfire management is needed in the US. The technology is proven, in production and ready to be rolled out,” said Carsten Brinkschulte, CEO & Co-Founder, Dryad Networks. “It would cost USD 947 million to protect all WUI land across the whole of the US with Dryad sensors. While this feels like an enormous number, when you consider that indirect wildfire costs in California were USD 148.5 billion in 2018 alone – over 150 times more - it’s a drop in the ocean.”

There has been evidence of a shift in the US’ approach to wildfire management, with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL Fire) leading the way by launching a trial of 400 of Dryad’s sensors in Jackson Demonstration State Forest last month. For the first time, the United States Department of Agriculture also included sensor technology in its recently published Request for Information (RFI) for wildfire and land management.

But a significant acceleration in the adoption of detection technology is needed to support the country in effectively fighting wildfires on a long-term basis.

“Not only will this technology save the Federal Government (which covers 75% of wildfire costs) money and, as a result, save taxpayers money, it will also drastically reduce all the other impacts of wildfires, such as those related to health, communities and our environment,” added Carsten.

dryad silvanet wildfire sensor on a tree in a forest

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