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PG&E testing artificial intelligence locally that could provide early wildfire detection

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Two HD smoke-spotting cameras on top of Mount Tamalpais are included in PG&E’s artificial intelligence pilot program (pictured on top two different poles).

PG&E has installed early 500 wildfire detection cameras across Northern and Central California since 2018. Now, the utility is testing artificial intelligence on some of those cameras to improve fire watch and response capabilities.

PG&E has installed 42 high-definition wildfire cameras across San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara Counties. 14 of them are being tested with artificial intelligence.

“We’re using every new tool and technology at our disposal to prevent wildfires, and we’re particularly focused on keeping our electrical equipment from igniting wildfires,” said PG&E Communications Representative Mark Mesesan.

Mesesan said the utility hopes the new technology will be able to more quickly identify a fire when it sparks.

“The quicker resources can be dispatched to fight a fire, the better the chances a fire can be kept from getting out of hand,” Mesesan said.

He said the AI has already proven useful in Placer County, when it detected smoke one minute before the fire dispatch and several minutes sooner than the manual movement of the camera itself.

“That smoke that was seen ended up becoming the River Fire,” Mesesan said.

The artificial intelligence is also designed to filter out things that might look like smoke such as dust, fog or haze.

PG&E staff at the Wildfire Safety Operations Center monitor the HD cameras that are getting equipped with the AI.

By the end of next year, Mesesan said PG&E plans to have more than 600 HD cameras installed across the state.

Anyone can access those cameras here to see the areas they monitor.

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