During the recent heatwave wildfires gripped the UK and Europe and the need for a more proactive approach to how we prepare for the impact of climate change became increasingly apparent, says Steve Smith, Head of Smart Places at FarrPoint who calls for a more proactive approach to managing wildfires and believes the Internet of Things could be the answer.
“We already have an abundance of data that, when used properly, can highlight the risk of wildfires and there is a clear opportunity to implement and deploy various Internet of Things solutions in areas of high risk,” Smith says. “These solutions can provide early warning alerts when a fire is detected, enabling a faster response and the opportunity to extinguish or contain the fire before it develops into a major incident.
“The potential economic and environmental savings from early detection are significant. Still, they can only be achieved with the correct systems, processes, and governance in place to enable the appropriate resources to respond quickly.
“For example, by deploying Internet of Things sensors in areas that are susceptible to wildfires, it is possible to provide early warning of a fire by detecting gases during the smouldering phase of a fire before it fully takes hold. This could reduce the reaction time of fire services to within the critical first hour, providing an opportunity to contain the blaze before it spreads uncontrollably. Another example is in the use of drones, which when equipped with the right sensors can provide real-time data on the topography of an area, visual pictures and videos, heat signatures, and fire hotspots. This enables firefighters to make intelligent decisions based on data – saving lives, economies, communities, and ecosystems in the process.”
The UK was faced with three times more wildfires in 2022 than in 2021. There have been 745 so far this year, up from 247 in the whole of 2021, with predictions suggesting these types of events are going to become more frequent in the future.
“This would result in wide-ranging implications that reach beyond the obvious damage to the environment and property,” says Smith. “The risks include impacts on food security, utility networks and the significant costs associated with the emergency response, restoration and impact on the local economy. If allowed to continue unchecked, events like this will continue to cause havoc.
“A Fire and Rescue Statistics report ten years ago stated average costs to the Fire and Rescue Service of vehicle response to all vegetation fires in the UK was up to £55 million per annum, when adjusted for inflation would equate to around £77m in 2022. Suppression costs of moorland fires are high due to problems of access and water supply—up to £1 million for a large peat moorland fire. In addition, ecological restoration of peatland burn scars in the Peak District National Park which were the result of a wildfire in Northwest England has cost over £12 million. The carbon cost of burnt peatland releasing stored carbon to the atmosphere can also be significant and should be avoided.
“Wildfires are nothing new. We’ve seen them in the UK before, and they are a regular occurrence in other parts of the world. Countries such as Italy, Portugal, Germany and the USA have been forced to adapt to this constant threat and now have systems and resources in place, ready to react when incidents happen. But what about prevention?
“The UK needs to act now so that we are prepared for future incidents, and we can learn a lot from other parts of the world where experience has been built up over many years.”