Artificial intelligence is actively being used to help combat wildfires in San Miguel County.
The Telluride Fire Protection District (TFPD) has been utilizing technology provided by Pano AI, a tech startup based in San Francisco, since the spring.
The cost of the pilot program, which totals $100,000, was shared between TFPD and the San Miguel Power Association.
TFPD Chief John Bennett, speaking on behalf of TFPD and the Norwood Fire Protection District, requested funding for the program in the amount of $50,000 from the county commissioners at their work session on Wednesday, Nov. 8.
Bennett said the pilot program was extended until January 2024, but the cost will then increase to $50,000 per camera, per year.
Pano AI uses artificial intelligence to automatically detect, verify and classify wildfire events in real time.
It bills itself as “the first disaster preparedness technology provider to offer a fully-integrated solution for active wildfire detection.”
The company mounts high-definition, 360-degree cameras, which can be operated manually or set to scan, where they swivel at about one rotation per minute.
The video footage is then analyzed by artificial intelligence, which looks for signs of smoke or fire.
If it detects any smoke or fire, it will alert the command center, Bennett said.
Those staffing the command center will then quickly review the data before contacting the appropriate agencies to respond.
“It (Pano AI) can tell the difference between a campfire and construction dust,” Bennett said. “It’s picked up some controlled burns. The beauty of this technology is that it helps us determine what kind of staffing we need to send out. I can start to develop an incident action plan based on real-time information.”
Pano AI, which operates in the United States and Australia, actively monitors more than 6 million acres of land.
In July, the company was able to send an early warning to first responders about the Kutch Road Fire, which broke out near Kutch Mountain in Yamhill County, Oregon. Pano AI detected the fire and issued a warning 14 minutes before the first 911 call.
The company is quickly gaining traction in Colorado, where it is being used in Aspen, Vail, Beaver Creek and other areas, including the Roaring Fork Valley and around Boulder.
There are two cameras currently operational in San Miguel County: At the top of Lift 9 on the ski hill and on a communications tower on Gray Head.
Two more cameras are in the process of being installed at McKenzie Springs and the Raspberry heliport outside of Norwood.
“The original intent was to have a site off the corner of Highway 62 and 145, but due to some FCC rules and challenges…those didn’t work out,” Bennett said. “It made great sense to move that fourth tower into the Norwood fire district. It picks up an amazing view of the Wright’s Mesa area.”
During the meeting, Bennett showed the county commissioners a live view from the camera atop Lift 9, which he was able to rotate 360 degrees.
Areas that include homes, or in the case of the camera on the ski hill, bathrooms, are pixelated to “protect people’s privacy,” he said.
The county commissioners were overall receptive to the technology, but had their doubts about whether the county could afford to contribute $50,000 yearly to the program.
Bennett said he will continue to look for more partners to help ease the financial burden of the technology, which could include the towns of Mountain Village and Telluride.
The county commissioners did not reach a decision regarding the funding and the topic will be revisited at the board’s next meeting.