Vegetative fuel models are a vital component for wildfire stakeholders in understanding the frequency and severity of wildfire events. It is the fuel models which allow us to simulate events and study how a wildfire will behave under certain circumstances. Wildfire spread is highly correlated with the density of vegetation and the combustibility of that vegetation. As with other perils such as hurricane and flood, we see advances in accuracy in the model estimates as the resolution of the model parameters improves. Currently, vegetative fuel are constructed using predominantly satellite imagery combined with imagery from high altitude aircraft. LIDAR and other types of remote sensing techniques are now commonly used to map ground elevation and other topographical features. In the last 10 years there has been tremendous progress in the resolution of the Earth’s surface, which we can use to design better simulation models which we insurance professionals can then use to do better underwriting.
In this episode of Profiles in Risk (E460), Tony speaks with Gus Calderon, Co-Founder of FireWatch. Gus took his passion for geospatial technology and his love of flying and made a business out of it. Gus contracts with local communities to do low altitude flight plans. Gus uses multi-spectral imagery equipment to obtain ultra-high resolution imagery of the community. How high-res? Well, most vegetative fuel maps measure the resolution of their imagery in meters. FireWatch measures the resolution of their imagery in inches. FireWatch can detect a leaf on the ground. At a minimum, FireWatch allows these communities to significantly increase the accuracy of their wildfire simulations, which gives the local risk management teams a better chance on the frequency and severity of the wildfire, the patterns that emerge that turn a small conflagration into an inferno, and how the community can better defend itself overall.
But wait there’s more…
With such ultra-high resolution vegetative maps, including the use of near infrared spectography, FireWatch can measure the chlorophyl level and the health of the vegetation. This is a really big advancement in wildfire defense. It is one thing to know roughly the density of the vegetation in a community and surrounding properties, it is another level of insight where the potential desiccation of that vegetation and ultimately the combustibility of that vegetation can be estimated. Wildfire defense is most effective when we remove fuel. But removing all potential fuel can be counterproductive. With limited time and resources we want to remove truly combustable fuel. Desiccated fuel. Dying vegetation. Fuels with high oil contents. Communities want to feel like communities and not desolate islands of properties and parking lots. So FireWatch’s solution creates better maps, which improves our wildfire modeling but goes much further by allowing communities to create defensible yet still idyllic space. Truly innovative.