Wildfires: Summer, Fall and Winter destruction...what's next?
Feb 9, 2022
It doesn't take a genius to realize that wildfire risk is REAL, and wildfire risk is INCREASING.
Just look at the last few years to see what is unfolding all around us:
- Dec 30, 2021 – Colorado wildfire incident, 1,000 structures destroyed, 35,000+ evacuees
- Year 2021* – California: 3,629 structures, 3 fatalities, 2.6 million acres
- Year 2021** – California "Dixie Fire" – 2nd largest event in CA history, 700+ homes, 963,309 acres
- Year 2020 – California's largest wildfire season on record (4.4+ million acres burned)
- Year 2020 – Oregon: 11+ fatalities, 4,009+ structures destroyed, $609+ million in losses
- Year 2018 – Paradise California "Camp Fire": 85 fatalities, 18,804 structures, $25.5+ billion in losses
- Year 2018 – British Columbia's largest wildfire season (3.3+ million acres burned)
- Year 2018 – California: 98+ fatalities, 22,280+ structures destroyed
- Year 2017 – California's "Northern Fires" (October): 44 fatalities, 8,900 structures destroyed
- Year 2017 – British Columbia's worst wildfire season to that point in time: 65,000 evacuees required
This abbreviated list of wildfire-inflicted disasters is merely the tip of the data-iceberg when it comes to wildfire incidents, acres burned, structures destroyed, fatalities/injuries incurred and related costs.
It is now apparent that our wildfire season is expanding; some suggest that the wildfire season has increased by upwards of 75 days*. Then came the recent Colorado wildfire on December 30, 2021.
Given ongoing increases in annual ambient temperature, expanded and extended drought conditions, increasing wind storms, etc., perhaps there is no longer a conveniently definable wildfire season.
Estimated wildfire costs for the US in 2020 were $114.2 billion. Annually, wildfire destruction represents billions of dollars in losses. Think about that...billions of dollars every year are required from somewhere to pay for wildfire aftermaths. Just one fire, the 2018 Camp Fire (Paradise, CA) resulted in an estimated $25.5+ billion in losses...allow that mind-boggling cost statistic to sink in!
Wildfire suppression costs alone require hundreds of millions, or billions of dollars each year; Oregon's 2020 suppression costs topped $354 million. By itself, the aforementioned Camp Fire incident exceeded $150 million in suppression costs. Tens of thousands of fire fighters and first responders are put at risk each year due to ongoing wildfires. Approximately 5,600 firefighters were dispatched just to address the 2018 Camp Fire event.
Yet, while post-event insurance monies, legal settlement monies, local/state/federal funding support are helpful, nothing truly replaces what is lost due to wildfires – whether it be human loss, material and property loss or environmental loss. However, money is always an important element in the wildfire equation...because the annual wildfire costs are staggering.
|Year||US Wildfire Damages (est.)|
Local, state and federal governments have been substantially burdened by the combination of ongoing wildfire suppression costs and post-event rehabilitation costs. In some cases, wildfire costs and collateral impacts on local economies have demonstrated the potential to severely impact local, state and even federal budgets. Notably, the economic impact loss and related tax revenue loss that ensues.
All of these recurring wildfire-induced cost impacts result in tax increases, insurance premium increases, cost of materials increases, etc. All must be factored into the overall costs associated with wildfires. Although, regardless of how helpful it is to receive post-event funds from any source, there is no sufficient amount of money to truly restore people's lives, their homes nor our environment following each disastrous event. Some "costs" are simply permanent in impact, life-changing and unforgettable.
Clearly, we need to implement additional steps to decrease wildfire impacts and to prevent certain wildfire occurrences; we must reduce the size/scope/frequency of these yearly-repeating catastrophes.
Wildfire Mitigation Solutions
While no 'one solution' is going to solve our wildfire woes, it is important to note that multiple solutions synergistically operating can deliver tremendous help. Although vegetation management efforts, increased electric grid inspections and occasional Public Safety Power Shutoff (PSPS) actions have been implemented, it is evident every year that more robust solutions are necessary when it comes to increasing public safety protections and reducing wildfire destruction.
Wildfire Mitigation: Requires a combination of early detection, auto alerts, prevention and situational awareness information thereby benefitting utility operators, first responders and all stakeholders.
Ask any first responder what the key is to fighting wildfires; beyond the obvious response of prevention comes the response of 'timely notification'. In other words, time is key...time is money...time is life; time is everything when it comes to fighting wildfires. Timeliness of notification is typically the difference-maker between thwarting a disaster or being relegated to battling and then paying for one. Early detection and automated alerts are instrumental to achieving 'timely notification'.
When it comes to identifying new solutions, sometimes it is helpful to think 'outside the box'. And admittedly, sometimes it is hard for us to see opportunities that are 'hidden in plain sight'. But, this is how GRIDWIDE FIRE-SPY was born; an 'outside the box' solution that is right in front of us.
What Makes GRIDWIDE FIRE-SPY Novel & Effective?
It all starts with a basic understanding of our grids. Specifically, our existing distribution grid architecture is ubiquitously deployed throughout our communities. Typically, the density of transformers within our localized distribution grids is commensurately indicative of the density of people, businesses and institutions that comprise our communities. This is precisely where we need increased protection.
Each overhead transformer presents a unique opportunity for improved public safety by capitalizing on the location, height and density of our existing transformer fleets. Thereby creating an enhanced public safety value that extends well-beyond the standard electricity delivery purpose of our distribution grids. Specifically, our overhead distribution transformers present the perfect opportunity for establishing community-wide wildfire sensor networks. And this is how we enhance our public safety protections.
By leveraging the height, location and density of our existing overhead transformers, GRIDWIDE FIRE-SPY sensors create an overarching community-wide canopy that monitors certain atmospheric and environmental conditions (i.e., outdoor smoke/gas, ground-level fire, ambient temperature, humidity).
By quickly deploying these always-on, outdoor, wildfire sensors onto overhead transformers, we will create a first-of-its-kind wildfire mitigation and public safety solution. Using cellular communications, GRIDWIDE FIRE-SPY sensors simultaneously deliver early detection, automated alerts, ongoing situational awareness, and certain wildfire prevention capability. Given their fast deployment design, a novel and effective wildfire mitigation solution is now achievable.
This is "thinking outside the box" to expand the purpose of our existing grid infrastructure, improve early detection of wildfires, leverage automated alerts capability, achieve certain wildfire prevention gains, and deliver ongoing situational awareness data to authorities when public safety events are unfolding.
GRIDWIDE FIRE-SPY introduces a necessary, added protection level to communities, thereby benefitting all stakeholders, our local economies and our environment, while reducing future wildfire cost impacts.
Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Emissions
Endless messaging from federal and state authorities, academia, environmentalists, climate activists, etc. indicates that Greenhouse Gas emissions must be curtailed. From coal plant closures, to coal generated electricity plant decommissioning, to electric vehicles adoption, we are told that GHG emissions, typically in the form of carbon dioxide (CO2) must be reduced; or global warming will result in catastrophic outcomes. Increasing average ambient temperatures, prolonged droughts, increased wind storms and wildfires are now commonly attributed to climate change conditions.
Recent wildfire-induced GHG emissions estimates for the US are as follows:
|Year||Wildfire GHG Emissions||Wildfire GHG as a Percent of US Auto Emissions|
|2017||295.1 Million Tons||21.4%|
|2018||258.2 Million Tons||18.7%|
|2019||137.3 Million Tons||9.8%|
|2020||302.4 Million Tons||21.4%|
|2021||209.8 Million Tons||14.6%|
Using these environmental understandings as a foundation, it is clear that wildfire mitigation must be actively addressed at more serious levels. Annually, wildfires spew massive levels of carbon dioxide into our atmosphere. Plumes of smoke and ash sometimes travel hundreds of miles and even enter the jet stream to travel great distances. Similarly, wildfire smoke has the ability to disrupt air travel as was once again experienced in December 2021 due to the massive Colorado wildfire disaster. Think about it...wildfires cause as much annual GHG emissions as nearly 1/5th to 1/4th of the US auto fleet. Therefore, if we are going to take action in the fight against GHG emissions, it is evident that wildfires are part of the challenge given that they are substantial annual contributors of harmful GHG emissions.
This reality is yet another critical reason why we must introduce more robust wildfire mitigation solutions. Innovative, emerging technologies such as GRIDWIDE FIRE-SPY can help to reduce GHG.
Typically, we focus on material damages and loss of life associated with wildfires. Sometimes the environmental damage grabs our attention. However, when the disaster is not in our community, we often times allow these terrible events to quickly escape from our minds while the victims still struggle.
We need to start thinking bigger when it comes to wildfires.
Whether it be the massive cost burdens, the horrific environmental damage, the massive GHG emissions impacts, and/or the terrible loss of life or injury associated with these events, we now need to maintain our focus perpetually on this problem. Year after year catastrophes have proven that 'worst case scenarios' are now commonplace. And, these disasters now occur in the Summer, Fall and Winter. In turn, we certainly need to maintain our focus and become more vigilant about expanding our wildfire mitigation solutions, efforts and awareness.
Once upon a time, people did not wear seat belts. Now, virtually everyone does. Once upon a time few people had smoke detectors in their homes. Now, virtually everyone does. At present, community-wide outdoor wildfire monitoring canopies are merely an emerging solution. However, in due time, similar to the adoption of seatbelts and in-home smoke detectors, outdoor wildfire mitigation sensor solutions will become a necessary commonplace throughout our communities.
The real question is: "How much cost burden, environmental damage, and loss of life will justify this proactive approach?"
Lastly, as we are contemplating when to deploy community-wide wildfire monitoring solutions, we must also consider the exceptional mental anguish and anxieties that ongoing wildfire risk now presents. Sleeping with one eye open is a terrible way to go through life. Sadly, wildfire risk now has the ability to cause this type of behavior. Given the frequency and magnitude of wildfire-induced catastrophes recorded to date, surely we have seen enough.
Now is the time for us to begin the proactive process of further enhancing our wildfire mitigation and public safety efforts by leveraging our existing distribution grid assets to get there!