Utah nears 1,000 wildfires this season, UTOPIA Fiber creates a system to detect fires early

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The Traverse Fire burns behind homes in Lehi, Utah, Sunday, June 28, 2020. Officials say fireworks caused the wildfire and forced evacuations early Sunday morning. (Justin Reeves via AP)

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (ABC4 News) – 2020 has been a hot and dry wildfire season for Utah. The state has reached nearly 1,000 wildfire starts in Utah so far according to Utah’s Forestry, Fire and State Lands. Over the past week, there has been an alarming 73 fire starts in Utah.

712 of this years 951 wildfires have been human caused. In 2018, there were only 510 human caused fires at this point in the year and in 2019, only 379 fires were human caused at this point.

There are currently several fires burning across the state right now including the Upper Provo Wildfire, Richard Mountain Fire, and the Hollow Fire. Earlier in the season, there were also two wildfires that caused thousands of people to be evacuated from their homes in Lehi and Saratoga Springs.

With wildfires still heating up Utah, UTOPIA Fiber, along with two BYU engineering students, created a new early wildfire detection tool that could save communities thousands of dollars and even save lives.

A test of the thermal camera equipment. Courtesy: UTOPIA Fiber

Early-Detection Wildfire Imaging Network (EDWIN), uses a network of thermal imaging cameras to detect temperatures in an environment that may indicate a wildfire. When a camera detects a hot-spot, an alert is automatically sent through UTOPIA fiber lines to local fire departments. A hot-spot is anything detected over 300 degrees Fahrenheit.

“The EDWIN Project thermal imaging cameras are so advanced, they can detect a hotspot down to a pixel,” Roger Timmerman, executive director of UTOPIA Fiber explained to BYU earlier this summer.

The new technology reduces response times and potential fire damages by automatically alerting crews to hot-spots before smoke is visible.

For each minute that response time is reduced, it is estimated that $44,000 to $215,000 is saved in economic loss. So far in Utah, EDWIN is being used in Layton, Murray, and Woodland Hills.

EDWIN was first tested out in Woodland Hills in Utah County in conjunction with the local fire department. Controlled fires were set up, then UTOPIA Fiber was able to measure optimal camera distances and the accuracy of their systems.

The fire department was notified of the heat signatures of each fire and the fiber network was able to transmit a live video of the burning.

“Being able to build something we know would actually help people and then watching it come to fruition was very fulfilling,” said Ben Dorton to BYU, a recently graduated BYU senior who worked on the project. “It was cool to see the real-world impact of what we were building and to talk to people this would have a direct impact on.”

The two students who worked on the EDWIN project have been hired as part of UTOPIA Fiber’s Smart Cities team. UTOPIA FIBER is hoping to expand EDWIN to other cities in Utah and in the West.

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