North Bay environmental tech firm helps communities reduce fire risk with computer blueprint

ByCornell Barnard via KGO logo
Wednesday, August 24, 2022
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Environmental tech firm Sonoma Technology is helping fire agencies in the North Bay by crafting a computer blueprint to help save lives and homes.

PETALUMA, Calif. (KGO) -- In the North Bay, local fire departments are turning to technology when it comes to reducing risk from wildfires and safely evacuating neighborhoods. A Sonoma County technology firm is helping fire agencies craft a computer blueprint to help save homes and lives.

Most of the Bay Area communities live with the threat of wildfires every day, California's epic drought has only made things dryer and more dangerous.

"The most red areas show where the population is, it's also where you would not want extreme fire behavior," said Tami Lavezzo.

Lavezzo from environmental tech firm, Sonoma Technology showed us a map of Marin County where fire danger remains high. This environmental tech firm is working with several North Bay fire departments to chart a blueprint plan to reduce fire danger.

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"Because of climate change and the drought, more and more of the agencies are trying to plan in advance of a fire happening," said Sonoma Technology CEO, Lyle Chenkin.

The firm's science-based computers use weather models, topography and moisture level of trees and brush to calculate risk to help predict fire behavior.

"Both a pre-planning tool and a real-time helpful information for fire departments," said Chenkin.

But all this technology isn't perfect.

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"The model can't do all the work for you," said Lavezzo.

The Marin County Wildfire prevention authority is contracting with Sonoma Technology. Officials know it's a team effort with boots on the ground firefighters. CAL FIRE grants are helping to foot the bill.

"All this technology, all this data is helping make better decisions on vegetation management to evacuation routes, getting our community out," said Marin County Fire Department Chief Jason Weber.

Computer analysis is working to determine the safest evacuation routes away from a fire.

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The firm has even developed an app with the Environmental Protection Agency called Smoke Sense. It's interactive, allowing users to report air quality and wildfire smoke in their neighborhoods.

"It's no longer a situation of smoke impacting one or two communities, the long range transport of smoke can go from Northern California to the Great Lakes," said Sonoma Technology Meteorologist Jeff Beamish.

But keeping homes and lives safe remains the primary missing of this company, founded 40 years ago.

"If we are able to give them information to help get a leg up, that could be the difference between a neighborhood burning down or being saved," Beamish added.

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