SUPERIOR, Colo. — Nearly two years after the Marshall Fire, Xcel Energy announced the deployment of 21 wildfire detection cameras statewide in partnership with San Francisco-based Pano AI.
Three are already in operation in Boulder County with 18 more to come by the end of the year.
Xcel still denies any culpability for starting the fire but says its first priority is to protect public safety.
The Boulder County Sheriff’s Office concluded that hot particles from a disconnected Xcel power line were partially to blame for igniting the Marshall Fire. Xcel continues to dispute that, but on Tuesday the power company did launch new technology in an effort to prevent this kind of fire from ever happening again.
“You marry the hardware of the camera with the software of the artificial intelligence – so it allows you to detect the smoke, determine that it is, in fact, smoke and be able to precisely determine the location of that,” said Robert Kenney, president of Xcel Energy Colorado. “So, it allows for early detection and then it allows for rapid deployment of first responders to precisely the location of the fire.”
Tuesday’s announcement came at Arvada Fire Station No. 9.
The majority of the 21 wildfire detection cameras will be along the front range with others near Breckenridge, Vail, Aspen and Telluride.
Pano AI’s technology is already in use in Canada, Australia and several other U.S. states, now including Colorado.
“Colorado would actually be our largest deployment of any state right now,” said Pano AI’s Arvind Satyam. “Artificial intelligence to detect smoke during the day, we’ll look at heat signatures at night.”
Satyam says the cameras and artificial intelligence identified a fire in Oregon this past summer and helped to deploy firefighting resources a full 15 minutes before the first 911 call came in.
“We heard from fire chiefs in that area who said if we weren’t able to provide that intel, especially within those critical minutes where it was over 90 degrees, red flag conditions – this would have been into the hundreds of acres,” Satyam said. “We’d be fighting that incident days later.”
The cameras will be installed on existing cell phone towers, municipal communications towers and other infrastructure already in place.
“Where we think the risk is the greatest and where we feel we can learn the most,” Kenney said.
“The objective here is that we stop the spread of catastrophic wildfires,” Satyam said.
The cameras will cost Xcel $50,000 each per year with a five-year contract.
Xcel says those costs will be passed on to ratepayers, which Xcel feels is worth the cost to protect lives and property.