San Diego

UC San Diego Data Scientists Working Online to Help the Fire Line

The WiFIRE team take long shifts, sometimes working 24/7 in order to monitor evolving fires

As hundreds of firefighters battled wildfires up and down California these past few weeks in October, a smaller unknown San Diego group has been lending their help to the fight with computing and brain power.

A team of wildfire warriors at UC San Diego's WiFIRE lab work 24/7 during California wildfires to help firefighters gain the upper hand out in the field.

"Obviously, last week was very busy for my team," said Ilkay Altintas, Chief Data Science Officer of UC San Diego's Super Computer Center.

When a wildfire breaks out, Altintas and her team of about a half-dozen analysts compile data from utility cameras, weather stations, NASA satellites and more to predict where fires are heading.

"We bring together all this information and then feed them into models that can tell us where the fire will be in 1 to 6 hours," Altintas explained.

Since September, the researchers have monitored a fire data gathering plane--a pilot project known as the FIRE Integrated Real-Time Intelligence System (FIRIS).

She showed NBC 7 how a simulated fire in Fallbrook can be predicted by applying different wind and climate conditions.

The plane can even fly over fires at night using infrared technology, seeing key areas through smoke.

Their partners such as Los Angeles Fire Department and San Diego Fire-Rescue can then use those models to determine who should evacuate and how resources should be deployed to fight an active fire.

"Fire season in California isn't done," Altintas noted.

The WiFIRE team take long shifts, sometimes working 24/7 in order to monitor evolving fires.

WiFIRE tech lead Dan Crawl said the fire watch marathons are worth it to "provide a positive impact for the communities and help firefighters."

These UC San Diego data experts are making a positive impact, using powerful data.

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