South Australia's Green Triangle trials forest fire detection system as Government surveillance is reduced
South Australia's largest forestry region has been trialling artificial intelligence as a method of fire protection after the reduction of surveillance from State Government fire-spotting towers. With fire season approaching, the region known as the Green Triangle has added a 25-metre-high, 360-degree camera and fire-detection software to its fire fighting arsenal. Green Triangle Fire Alliance (GTFA) member and plantation owner, Laurie Hein, said the reduction in fire towers concerned him but that the trial would help to increase fire surveillance. "This [system] provides us an opportunity to help try and cover that hole in the observation circle," he said. "We've chosen the camera because we think there is real potential." Two of seven towers owned and operated by Forestry South Australia were temporarily suspended earlier this year after an inspection revealed they had significant structural issues. "It's something we can ill afford if we are looking to detect fires very, very early. We see it as absolutely vital that we actually do something because it's not only our plantations that we're looking to protect here. This is a landscape. Fire doesn't recognise boundaries … so it is [for] the benefit of the community as well." In a statement, ForestrySA chief executive, Julian Speed, said a maintenance plan had been made to address issues with all existing towers and the use of towers would only be stopped when there was a "viable alternative".
Autonomous fire detection. The GTFA worked with fire management company Working on Fire Australia to install the technology.
SA manager Justin Jagger is conducting the trial and says the camera is continuously monitoring. "It's taking small snippets of video images and then looking for changes in the landscape," he said. "Whether it's glow, whether it's smoke or whether it's other change in the landscape, that is what it picks up."
The camera sends the footage to a manned computer set-up in Mount Gambier, where an operator can assess any changes detected. "The software in the background and the algorithm it uses to detect the fires, ... continuously improves," Jagger said.
Protecting more than assets
Hein came face-to-face with the devastation of a bushfire last summer when some of his plantations burnt. "We had a fire start in the afternoon … that burned through some native forest under pretty extreme conditions and then entered into the plantation estate," he said. "All up there was about 800 hectares [of plantations] lost, of ours about 390. That's approximately $20 million in value that was lost over those few days."
The forests are planted near towns, highways and farms; a forest fire can risk more than just the timber assets.
Local Country Fire Service regional commander, John Probert, said his team regularly worked with the forestry industry to protect communities from fires. "One of the really critical things is it's all about the whole community working together come bushfire season," he said. "We have many people helping and early reporting of fires is a critical part of that."
The trial will run until the end of the bushfire season when the industry will decide whether to invest further. However, it has already cost the GTFA nearly $60 000.
"We're asking for, from the Government, financial support for not only the money we spent on the trial … but the ongoing investment in the expansion and operation of the camera network," Hein said. "We would want the South Australian Government to work with us and co-invest in expanding the camera network across the South East [region]."
In a statement, Minister for Primary Industries and Regions David Basham said the Government was already supporting the trial. "ForestrySA is an active member of the Green Triangle Fire Alliance which helped to establish the current fire detection pilot program and we look forward to seeing the results of the trial," he said. "ForestrySA will work with emergency management agencies to ensure high-level fire protection and detection capability this summer and will comply with recommendations of the Keelty Review into last summer's bushfires."
Source: ABC News