The special weather statements issued because of poor air quality and visibility, and that brilliant orange sunrise you witnessed earlier this month? You can thank one of the worst wildfire seasons we’ve ever had.
Haze and smoke from fires in northern Ontario continue to reduce visibility across Ontario’s cottage country and urban areas.
As of July 26, there have been 902 forest fires in Ontario this year. For context, the average number of seasonal fires over the past decade is just 520.
But the new app FireFringe is helping to track all those fires in real-time, and becoming a significant support for firefighters, municipalities and the public. The Ministry of Northern Development, Mines, Natural Resources and Forestry already monitors forest fires in Ontario, but when hundreds of fires are raging, it’s difficult to keep track.
“The app was definitely a response to this problem,” says Phil Green, CEO of First Resource Management Group (FRMG), the company behind FireFringe. “One hotspot the size of a tennis court is hard to keep track of when you’ve got hundreds or thousands of them going on,” Green says.
The idea started in 2018, when FRMG was already using satellite technology for their work in forestry resource management. During what was a bad forest fire year in northeastern Ontario, the company began sending wildfire mapping information to the towns under threat from the fires.
FireFringe’s technology automatically integrates various satellite data, putting that information quickly into the palms of people’s hands so they can visualize the distance between them and blazing fires.
Because the app shows where forest fires are beginning to grow and predicts where they’re headed, residents can stay informed and take early precautions, even before an evacuation order arrives.
For Green, the application paid immediate dividends for his family.
“My son was hiking in the Pemberton, B.C. area when his friend said ‘look at that big cloud over there.’ He pulled out the app to check it out; it wasn’t a cloud, it was a forest fire,” Green says. “They were far enough away that they didn’t have to take evasive action, but I think anybody would want their family to have that information.”
The app also provides twice-daily updates on the position of hotspots, areas where satellites are picking up an unexplained heat source that signals a possible forest fire.
This could prove invaluable if future seasons are like this one. Or worse.
Green points to a few reasons it could trend that way. Climate change may result in an increase in the number of forest fires, and towns and homes pushing further into the natural environment could increase the damage from fires.
“If your cottage is up north somewhere, or your fishing camp, it might be a darn good idea to keep track of where these [hotspots] are,” Green says.