GRASS VALLEY, Calif. June 30, 2023 – At Thursday’s event at the Grass Valley Air Attack base (GVAAB) both a Fire Integrated Real-time Intelligence System (FIRIS) mapping plane and a new Fire Hawk were on display. They are now part of the state’s toolkit to rapidly assess and contain wildfires.

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Grass Valley Air Attack Base on June 29, 2023


The FIRIS program, which started in 2019 in Orange County under the leadership of Chief Brian Fennessy, provides real-time intel to ground crews responding to wildfires. Starting today, July 1 2023, FIRIS will be jointly operated by Cal OES and CAL FIRE through the state’s Fire & Rescue Mutual Aid System on all-hazards incidents.

The capability to rapidly map a fire, detect possible spots outside the control lines, combined with infrared cameras that map every single hotspot is invaluable to resources fighting a fire. FIRIS also sends the mapping data to UC San Diego’s supercomputer where predictive models analyze the current fire and send probability of spread back to FIRIS and the incident commander on the fire. This allows for resource request decisions to be made faster. Engines, handcrews, equipment or aerial assets can be dispatched immediately. If evacuations are needed, this gives agencies more time to send emergency notifications and get residents out safely.

Governor Newsom, after exiting the FIRIS mapping plane, highlighted the state of the art technology used in California, “The tools of technology are being utilized here in the state of California like no other jurisdiction that we know of in the United States. There’s a reason people come from around the globe to learn about the work that Cal Fire is doing.”

Chris Pahalek, an AEVEX Aerospace’s Airborne Sensor Operator, explained, “We are taking incredibly accurate measurements down to 100th of an acre. Our ability to provide real time intelligence to decision makers on the ground is going to influence that up to the minute decision making as to priorities, possible evacuation orders, and where resources on the ground are going to be placed.”

FIRIS at the Grass Valley Air Attack base on June 29, 2023. Photo YubaNet
FIRIS at the Grass Valley Air Attack base on June 29, 2023. Photo YubaNet

Grass Valley ECC to evaluate AI-assisted fire detection

CAL FIRE Unit Chief Brian Estes, whose Nevada-Yuba-Placer (NEU) unit hosted the event, gave a tour of the Emergency Command Center (ECC) located at the Interagency Command Center. “Today’s theme was twofold. One was about that convergence of proven technologies and emerging technologies in our response. The second part of today was really about the technology in here and the men and women who are committed to advancing our mission in fire and emergency services. The Grass Valley Command Center is a place that is often picked because we’re robust, we’re busy, we have a high call volume, and we’re a very professional operation.”

The GVECC processes over 71,000 emergency calls annually and provides dispatch services to nearly 30 agencies throughout Nevada, Yuba, Placer, Plumas and El Dorado counties including Sierra Nevada Ambulance, as well as air ambulance helicopters for the Sierra Sacramento Valley EMS agency. The command center also serves as the Region Coordination Center for Region 4 of the California Office of Emergency Services (Cal OES) and the Operational Area Coordination Center for Cal OES in Nevada County and the Lake Tahoe Basin.

Inside the ECC, Chief Estes explained, “We have over 1000 cameras across California. When that 911 call comes in, it’s about validating that we really do have what’s being reported. This center here is one of five in the state that’s evaluating artificial intelligence to go with the camera system so that we are taking it from validation to detection in our camera systems.”

The cameras are part of ALERTCalifornia, a network of more than 1,000 monitoring cameras and sensor arrays. They collect data that provides actionable, real-time information to inform public safety. In addition to the camera network, and in response to increasingly frequent and severe climate-driven disasters, ALERTCalifornia is prioritizing novel data collection and research. These data are open-source and are shared with fellow institutions and partners. Based at UC San Diego, ALERTCalfornia is the third iteration of the university’s wireless network that started with the High Performance Wireless Research and Education Network (HPWREN) during the 2003 Cedar Fire.

Due to the level of discretion afforded to the captains and communication operators to make pre-arrival command decisions, the GVECC functions as a command center versus a dispatch center. Using artificial intelligence (AI) to detect new fire starts faster adds another tool for the first first responders to dispatch appropriate resources to the exact location of an emergency.

Chief Estes’ summation on technology now available and how it is used emphasized the most important element in the fire services – the trained professionals: “It really is a combination of science, data, policy and protocol. But at the end of the day, these men and women and the decisions they make are really critical to our success.”

See more of the tools and tech featured during Thursday’s event in the stories below.