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PG&E Using Artificial Intelligence To Help Stop Wildfires

SACRAMENTO (CBS13) — Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) is trying something new to help stop wildfires. The utility is testing artificial intelligence software in some of its ALERTWildfire cameras set up around the state.

"This is all about improving our situational awareness, improving our response times, and keeping our community safe," explained Megan McFarland, a PG&E spokesperson.

PG&E and first responders throughout California already have eyes in the sky to spot wildfires with ALERTWildfire cameras. McFarland explained it's the technology that they are adding to the cameras that makes their efforts different.

The power utility company has installed 138 new cameras with AI software in 46 cameras in high-risk fire areas, including in Yuba, Butte, Placer and Plumas counties.

The technology can immediately tell the difference between smoke and fog. The alert is sent to specialists, via email or text, who determine what type of fire they're facing.

"When we are getting this intelligence earlier, we can respond more quickly and we can get people out there to stop the spread of the fire," she said.

And McFarland says it's already working. In August, one of the ALERTWildfire Placer County cameras with AI technology spotted smoke a minute before dispatch was aware of the flames that became the River Fire.

"The goal of all these tools is to leverage them to prevent catastrophic wildfires," said McFarland.

Cal Fire Battalion Chief Jon Heggie commended the effort, explaining any detection that can come before the naked eye will help all of California.

"Where this is going to definitely benefit is some of those remote locations where there is probably not a lot of population to report fires," Heggie said.

Cal Fire already uses a network of cameras but believes this new technology could help.

"We are in a new era of wildfire danger in California. We can't go to the battle with the same tools we used before. We need to look at new, innovative ways to fight these fires," he said.

The AI tool aims to fight a growing problem with hope the it helps prevent future devastation.

"This is just one tool that is helping us prevent wildfires, it's helping us save lives," said McFarland.

The AI technology is part of a larger plan to install more fire watch cameras throughout high-risk areas. The power company hopes to install 600 by the end of next year. Only some of those cameras will include AI as part of their pilot project.

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