SYDNEY—In October, a sensor mounted on a 28-foot pole in the Australian countryside detected small particles in the air near a timber plantation and sent out an alert.
When plantation staff arrived, they found a small man-made fire that was already under control, but the incident offered a glimpse of how authorities hope to use new technology to battle wildfires that have grown increasingly intense in recent years.
As a new fire season begins in Australia—a recent wildfire ravaged about half of Fraser Island in the country’s east—researchers are looking to rely more on technology to find blazes quickly and better predict their path.
A monthslong government inquiry into the devastating 2019-2020 fire season in Australia, which killed more than two dozen people and burned an area bigger than Washington state, concluded that authorities need to be better prepared and recommended that officials work with the private sector to develop new technology.
“We’re still detecting fires with people in towers and binoculars. We’ve got to move beyond that,” said Leigh Kelson, program director at FireTech Connect in Australia, a government-funded effort to help startups develop new firefighting technologies. Firefighters also rely on the equivalent of 911 calls to find new blazes.
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