Courtesy of UTOPIA

How UTOPIA is using fiber optics and AI to fight wildfires

By Ryan Miller, | Posted - Jul. 15, 2020 at 9:13 p.m.

LAYTON — On a pole outside Valley View Golf Course in Layton, there’s a camera rotating high in the air. This isn’t any old camera. It has two cameras in its body, which gives it a WALL-E-like appearance, and features an infrared scanner.

And It’s not there to spot people — it’s there to search for fires.

On Wednesday, UTOPIA Fiber announced the beta test for the EDWIN Project. The project, which began as a Brigham Young Univesity capstone project, uses UTOPIA's fiber-optic structure to transmit video and other data to fire authorities to help reduce the response time to wildfires.

The project’s cameras can detect a small hot spot even before smoke is visible. Layton, Murray and Woodland Hills are the first three cities to have EDWIN cameras installed.

The infrared cameras detect rising temperatures in specific areas, allowing them to detect if a hot spot is present. The EDWIN project is programmed to automatically alert crews when it senses one of those hot spots.

“The way that this system is set up can be a game-changer for us, in terms of our ability to respond quickly,” Layon Fire Chief Kevin Ward said. “The quicker that we can get resources en route to the fire and get those resources to the correct area and respond, it has the potential to save lives and save homes and save a lot of property.”

According to the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food, Utah averages around 1,300 wildfires a year, burning about 250,000 acres. The Utah Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands said there had already been around 700 wildfires in 2020.

The cameras, UTOPIA said, can usually cover a 10-15 mile area proficiently, but, depending on the terrain that area size can increase. The Woodland Hills camera, for example, covers a 40-mile area because of all the foothills surrounding the camera’s location.

On Wednesday, to demonstrate how the cameras work, UTOPIA employees set a fire in a barbecue and then closed the lid. The camera located the hot spot and on the camera feed sent back information about the temperature and how fast it was rising.

Over the Fourth of July weekend, the Layton Fire Department got a report of a possible fire up in Adams Canyon. Using his phone, Ward was able to pull up the camera’s stream and search for hot spots. There wasn’t any. It was just two nighttime hikers with headlamps.

UTOPIA executive director Roger Timmerman said that to cover the Wasatch Front — from Payson to Tremonton — would take 30-40 cameras. An additional 10-15 would be needed to cover the Wasatch Back.

“We are doing it one by one, any of those communities and the fire departments that serve those areas, we’d love to speak to them about what it takes to put these in place,” Timmerman said.

Zimmerman said the camera cost ranges from $45,000 to $60,000 with installation being another $5,000, depending on what is needed. The cameras rely on UTOPIA’s fiber-optic network to send information, so communities will need to have fiber installed in order to take advantage of the EDWIN project.

To UTOPIA though, the investment is worth it. The company said that each minute of response time is estimated to prevent between $44,000 and $215,000 in damage.

“Even just a small advance notice for them can be very useful,” Timmerman said. “But we hope to do better than that.”

Ryan Miller

KSL Weather Forecast