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AI-powered, fire-spotting cameras dispatch firefighters to Colorado wildfire

AI-powered wildfire-spotting cameras dispatch firefighters to Breckenridge wildfire
AI-powered wildfire-spotting cameras dispatch firefighters to Breckenridge wildfire 02:36

After a wildfire broke out at an unattended campsite just east of a popular Breckenridge neighborhood, local firefighters are praising a new tool for their quick reaction to get the flames put out before they became too much to handle. 

Aside from growing in a place where wildfire mitigation had taken place only a year and a half ago, the Wellington wildfire was spotted by a Pano AI camera, financially supported by Xcel Energy.

The camera sits on a cell tower with a 360-degree view and submits an alert to emergency crews if it notices smoke. While that has resulted in a few false alarms in Summit County, this was the first instance where a wildfire was caught early, and kept to only one-eighth of an acre, firefighters said, thanks to the camera's early notice. 


"We know we are going to get some false alarms, it's shown us campfires, totally legal campfires," Mathew Benedict, with Red White and Blue Fire's Wildland Division, explained. "It's learning Summit County and that's part of the progress, but when we can get a location, an actual lat/long and drive straight through it instead of going through the process of finding, which often time with wildfires can take an hour, just trying to figure out a location and access and figure out all the stuff and then get the troops means a lot."

Benedict said he's excited about the future of these cameras in other wildfire-prone areas in Colorado as a tool to not only keep eyes on things but get resources to them as quickly as possible. 

"Nothing in wildfires is fast, except the fire itself," Benedict said, laughing. He believes this system could change that. 

In a statement from Michelle Aguayo with Xcel Energy, she explained that the company currently has 28 PANO AI cameras installed. The company expects to have a total of 42 by the end of this year, along with shooting for an additional 93 camera stations should the 2025 to 2027 Wildfire Mitigation Plan be adopted, which would provide 100% coverage of the two highest risk tier areas -- tiers 2 and 3 -- for wildfires.

Right now, there are around 40 sets of cameras up and operating in Colorado, regardless of owners, with an expected 60 by this fall. The towers can see for around 10 miles in all directions on a clear day, and if two are close enough, they can triangulate the exact location of the fire, the feature Benedict was so excited about. 

As for Pano AI, it's hoping larger organizations will see the benefits of their now 4-year-old tried and tested system. With a larger net, more of Colorado could be quick to respond. 

"We really are hoping to see more investment from state and federal fire agencies because they have massive jurisdictions and they have the ability to deploy this technology at a grand scale," Sonia Kastner, CEO and founder of Pano AI said. "We need 15,000 panel stations to cover the high and medium fire risk across the United States."

Kastner said she estimates 300 in Colorado would cover all the high-risk areas. 

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