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Buying time: Inside the AI technology trained on B.C. wildfires

The AI programs crunched the numbers and conditions around Horsethief Creek wildfire in the Kootenays, which started burning in late July last year and prompted evacuation orders and restricted access to treacherous areas.

Their predictions saw the fire come dangerously close to Invermere, and that factored into BCWS’ decision to fight the fire from the eastern flank to avoid the worst-case scenario. After a robust attack over weeks, the fire was ultimately contained to a fraction of the area the modelling warned could burn without firefighting intervention.

The two systems work with very limited data sets, which is different from large language models like ChatGPT, providing more reliable results with very specific goals. It also means BCWS can begin customizing what they want to be part of the analysis, which they will slowly do in the coming years.

McLoughlin emphasized that humans are still making the call on what to do, and “this doesn't replace people but what it allows us to do is provide information to decision-makers in a more timely manner and to cover a lot more ground in the province when we have heavy fire seasons like 2023.”

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