Researchers in Canada are developing cutting-edge tools to better anticipate wildfires

Canadian researchers have started working on new predictive technologies in the aftermath of a bad wildfire season. This technology might save billions of dollars and preserve critical infrastructure across North America.

Two professors from UBC’s Okanagan campus are among the first experts to join the US-Canada Centre on Climate-Resilient Western Interconnected Grid. The center’s mission is to improve models for predicting wildfires and to get better data in order to lessen or avoid power outages.

Professor of mathematics and statistics at the institution, Dr. John Braun, has been intent on revolutionizing wildfire modeling methods. By integrating stochastic models that take uncertainties into consideration, his study questions the limits of conventional deterministic models.

Braun has stated that his work seeks to develop more precise and flexible models of fire spread by combining data from satellites, drones, and thorough topographical analyses.

Compared to even a decade ago, “today’s technology allows us to gather much more high-quality data,” he observed.

The use of modern instruments can forestall massive losses
In a recent investigation, Braun brought attention to the fact that the current deterministic models were unable to give accurate and timely predictions during the 2016 Fort McMurray wildfire.

In 2016, authorities might have been better equipped to distribute funds wisely if they had access to better technology, claims Braun.

He said that there was a 5% chance that the fire may approach the city borders by 6 or 7 p.m., which is exactly when it happened. They may have chosen a different course of action had they been aware of this. Essential decision-support tools, these models enhance infrastructure safety and firefighting efforts.

The Insurance Bureau of Canada (IBC) estimates that the wildfire in Fort McMurray cost consumers $4.3 billion, making it one of the most expensive natural disasters in Canada in terms of insurance claims.

On the other hand, the wildfires that devastated the Okanagan and Shuswap this summer are ranked ninth on the same list. Initial estimates indicate that the losses were above $720 million.

In addition, the Shuswap and Okanagan fires were named by the IBC as the most expensive insured occurrence in British Columbia historical records.

Overcoming the obstacles presented by climate change
More people than just Braun are working to make wildfire forecasting and prevention better. Dr. Kevin Hanna, who is both an associate professor of earth sciences and the director of UBC’s Centre for Environmental Assessment Research, is another collaborator with him.

Hanna’s main area of expertise is doing vulnerability and risk assessments for the purpose of authorizing electricity projects in Canada. His study, he said, is to build reliable methods for evaluating the dangers and safety of electric transmission lines so that they can endure abrupt disasters like wildfires.

Hanna stated, “This project provides a unique platform to unify various research disciplines for addressing energy resiliency and security in the face of evolving climate challenges.”

Braun and Hanna are part of a larger team of academics from eleven North American institutions working on a solution to the growing problems caused by things like heat waves, drought, flooding, and wildfires as part of the US-Canada Centre on Climate-Resilient Western Interconnected Grid.

Eighty million people across 4.66 million km2 are served by the Western Interconnected Grid. All the way from the northern tip of British Columbia to the border with Mexico, and from the coast of California to the Rockies, it extends.