Fighting forest fire with technology

The 2015 forest fires crisis brought more than $16 billion loss in India’s economy. At the same time, researchers estimated that the smoke caused around 100,000 premature deaths across some countries. These countries include Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore.

Hunter-gatherers lit these fires to prepare the land for agriculture, and it then burned out of control. This incident was exacerbated by below-average rainfall during the dry season, resulting from the El Niño.

Forest fires

For many years, hunter-gatherers have used fires in slash-and-burn agriculture. People light forest fires for many reasons. Some are for practical and beneficial purposes, some are accidental, while the others are lit purposely to damage. These behaviours directly harm forest ecosystems and the surrounding communities.

These fires often occur on drained peatlands. Dry peat ignites easily and caused forest fires.

However, several technological innovations have emerged to help us prevent and solve these forest fire issues more effectively.

Internet of Things (IoT) and Wireless Sensors

IoT devices and sensors keep track of the environmental changes. For instance, these devices will measure atmospheric temperature, carbon dioxide levels, and relative humidity. These measures allow for early-stage detection and warning. They also provide climate and forest parameters for fire propagation models.

Wilmar adopts this technology in identifying fire spots. This technology also provides concession maps to the World Resources Institute for inclusion in its Global Forest Watch (GFW) platform. GFW then uses data analytics and satellite imagery to identify fires. The accuracy of this technology can reach one square kilometre, further increases the efficiency of it.


Timing is vital when it comes to halting the spread of fires and limiting damage. Drones allow firefighters to have a bird’s eye view of the terrain and real-time information on the transmission path. It is easier to launch and more cost-effective compared to helicopters.

Many palm oil growers integrate drone into their plan. Golden Agri-Resources (GAR) deploys drones across all its plantations. It allows for faster detection and response by the GAR’s emergency response team.

Machine-Learning and Artificial Intelligence (AI)

Nowadays, these technologies are increasingly being applied to large data sets to identify environmental threats. The threat such as deforestation increase the risk of forest fires.

Deforestation by illegal logging is a perennial issue in the industry. Therefore, producers and consumers have relied upon monitoring tools that use satellite imagery to detect deforestation areas where fires burn at the highest severity.

Besides, AI also opens up the possibility of social media mining. Social media will provide insights that inform haze disaster management during different emergency stages.

An example of an open-source software platform is Artificial Intelligence for Digital Response (AIDR). It uses machine learning and AI to filter and classify thousands of social media messages per minute.


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  1. The Burning Issue: Fighting Forest Fires With Technology


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