Using technology to transform vegetation management in the aftermath of the Dixie Fire – TechCrunch


Forest fires have become more and more frequent around the world, from Greece to Turkey to Australia and California.

The causes of these fires are diverse, from stray cigarettes and unlit campfires to lightning and, as is particularly the case in California, damaged power lines.

The Dixie fire, which began on July 13 after a tree fell on Pacific Gas & Electric power lines, has become the the biggest fire in the history of California.

As PG&E faces growing debt due to various lawsuits between the 2015 and 2017 wildfires and the 2018 camp fire that consumed the town of Paradise, the utility company has filed for bankruptcy. chapter 11 in the hope of avoiding tens of billions of dollars in additional fire liabilities.

PG&E emerged from bankruptcy with $ 25.5 billion in commitments regulation for all major victims and groups of forest fires, as well as changes to its board of directors.

Currently, PG&E Vegetation Management The protocol consists of cutting trees all year round using traditional methods. Once the land or home owner is notified of an upcoming inspection, inspectors manually mark trees that require pruning or removal. It can take up to four to six weeks for the marked trees to be taken care of accordingly.

As part of the bankruptcy recovery plan, California Public Utilities Commission adopted measures to strengthen governance and PG&E operations. One of these measures includes the Enhanced Vegetation Management Program (EVM) to reduce the risk of forest fires.

This means that while PG&E continues with its vegetation management protocol, it will also take into account the potential risks associated with dead or dying trees, having overhanging branches or too tall. The company’s primary goal is to complete 1,800 of the 2,400 miles of EVM by the end of 2021.

The public service has identified the circuit protection zones (CPZ) as the center of interest for the 20% of the zones most exposed to the risk of forest fires. The top 20% are divided into risk zones of 1% to 3%, 4 to 10% and 11 to 20%, the top 1 to 3% being the main objective of the 1,800 EVM miles. Only the 1% to 3% covers approximately 2,422 miles.

By comparing the origin of the Dixie Fire from sources like the Chronicle of San Francisco, Google Maps and the map provided by PG&E, it is obvious that the Dixie Fire is only close to the CPZs with a risk of 11% to 20%. The likelihood that PG&E will carry out its EVM program this year in the Dixie Fire area is very low.

The droughts in California have been more intense and more durable. There isn’t a lot of leeway to bet between what presents the most risk. In this case, access to information and the speed of these operations must be up to the task.

At Spacept, we’re interested in seeing if our tools could detect the vegetation hazards that caused the Dixie fire. Being able to spot encroachments could help prevent future forest fires and increase the reliability of utilities.

To determine this, we extracted the satellite data taken on June 15 by the SPOT satellite and we focused on the area identified by the Chronicle of San Francisco as a probable starting point. The fire is reported having started near Feather River Canyon on Dixie Road.

Image credits: Spacept

We then applied our Tree Detector to the satellite image to find any encroachment of trees or vegetation on the path cleared by PG&E around the power lines.

Image credits: Spacept

Our tree detector found some levels of overgrowth on the way to the power lines. By zooming in on a part of it and placing a mask detecting the path of the power line and vegetation, we generated an image of one of these areas of dangerous proliferation.

Image credits: Spacept

In the image, the blue path represents the cleared sections of the power line path, the red represents the high density levels of trees and vegetation, and the orange represents the average levels of vegetation density.

Given PG&E recommendation That tree lines less than 40 feet tall are not within 15 feet of power lines, we found several areas of great concern that violated such protocols in this area. In the future, PG&E and other power companies could use satellite solutions like those of Spacept to identify such proliferation in advance and direct vegetation management resources to these areas.

In places like California, where wildfires are particularly frequent and devastating, any decrease in the number of wildfires in the region could prevent the destruction of critical ecosystems and infrastructure – and save these companies billions. dollars in lawsuits.

The obstacles of scalability and operations to initiate an inspection require improved planning management. Satellite analysis is a feasible and proactive approach and shows accelerated results for vegetation management.

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