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Tech in the Mix as State Senate Passes Firefighting Bills

The measures could include artificial intelligence for wildfire modeling, and use of drones to sense wind shifts that could help crews pre-position firefighting equipment.

The California Senate has passed two bills authored by state Sen. Bill Dodd to address the growing wildfire threat through more advanced firefighting technology and by easing the path to wider use of prescribed fire.

Senate Bill 109 would create the Office of Wildfire Technology Research and Development within the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services. Its purpose would be to work with public, private and nonprofit entities to study, produce and test innovative firefighting technologies and make recommendations to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection and regional fire agencies that might advance efforts to detect and respond to fires.

Examples might include artificial intelligence developed to perform wildfire modeling and mapping to help guide deployment of firefighting resources, or drones that could fly above fires and sense subtle winds to help firefighting planners determine where best to pre-position resources, said a spokesman for Dodd, D-Napa.

Drones also have been used to deploy incendiary devices to set backfires and deprive advancing flames of fuels in otherwise inaccessible areas.

Advancements also could be made to existing fire detection and suppression techniques, including fire detection cameras, communication equipment and deployment of fire retardant, Dodd’s office said.

Senate Bill 332 would promote prescribed burning as a firefighting and land management tool by making insurance more accessible to certified burn bosses. It would establish new liability standards and hold those bosses responsible for costs of escaped fires only in cases that constitute “gross negligence.”

“With these votes, we take a big step toward protecting Californians from devastating wildfires,” Dodd said. “We know prescribed burning is one of the most effective means of prevention, so it makes sense to expand that practice. At the same time, we must tap California’s innovative spirit to find new ways to control fire, which is why research and development is key.”

The two bills now move on to consideration by the Assembly.

(c)2021 The Press Democrat (Santa Rosa). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.