When wildfires hit Alberta earlier this month, leaving more than 10,000 square kilometers of land scorched so far this year, Joao Lopes was worried about how much more devastation could be on its way.
“Unfortunately, the statistics are showing that maybe next year will be worse than this year,” said the entrepreneur, who is founded in crop monitoring and fire risk assessment technology company SensaioTech.
Wildfires flaring up around Halifax in recent days is yet another reminder of the increasing risks that many are warning of.
A United Nations report from 2022 found wildfires are becoming “more intense and more frequent” and said with temperatures rising as global warming worsens, “the need to reduce wildfire risk is more critical than ever.”
Canada alone sees about 7,500 wildfires burning more than 2.5 million hectares of forest — about half the size of Nova Scotia — every year and that amount is projected to double by 2050, the Canadian Space Agency has said.
We need to do something to help them,” said Lopes, whose company is split between Toronto and Brazil, where wildfires have threatened the Amazon rainforest and sugar cane fields.
Help could come in the form of technology aimed at making wildfire prevention, containment and fighting easier, more accurate and less costly, he and others believe.
SensaioTech’s offering is centered on artificial intelligence-equipped sensors that place in forests and farm environments. The sensors monitor 14 different variables including soil temperature, humidity, luminosity, salinity, PH levels, pests and diseases.
They take readings every minute, send them to a dashboard clients can review, and issue alerts to the customer’s electronic devices when any variables reach dangerous levels.
SensaioTech’s approach is a departure from the historical data and satellites Lopes said are frequently used to predict and thwart the spread of wildfires. While both can be helpful, he said sensor data tends to be more current and precise.
“When you have satellites, normally the images are collected three or four days ago, so basically, you cannot see the real time,” he said.
“Also, it doesn’t have the precision about these small areas or spots where the fire can start.”
The Union of Concerned Scientists has counted 971 satellites that can track smoke and other wildfire factors, up from 192 in 2014. However, few fly over northern latitudes such as Canada’s and many only capture times when fires aren’t burning at their peak.