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Hawaii is placing wildfire detection sensors statewide in wake of deadly Lahaina fire

Fire detection sensors are being placed around Maui and other Hawaiian islands to respond more quickly when wildfires break out, Gov. Josh Green announced Friday.

At a news conference, Maui Mayor Richard Bissen said, “The introduction of an early detection system will give our first responders a critical advantage in protecting our community. With this new technology, detecting fires at the very early phases will save lives.”

About 80 wildfire sensors are being strategically placed around the state with the first 20 sensors on Maui expected to be active by April 8, according to US Fire Administrator Lori Moore-Merrell.

The sensors can detect heat and rely on artificial intelligence and smart learning to distinguish anomalies like smoke particles and gases produced by fires from different elements regularly found in the air around Hawaii, including volcanic ash and salt from ocean, explained DHS Undersecretary for Science and Technology, Dimitri Kusnezov.

“We barbecue a lot here, so he’s adjusted the technology to be just right,” quipped Green, prompting chuckles from those in attendance.

Officials attend a press conference on March 8, 2024, in Kilhei, Hawaii, announcing wildfire and wind sensors will be deployed statewide. - KGMB/KHNL
Officials attend a press conference on March 8, 2024, in Kilhei, Hawaii, announcing wildfire and wind sensors will be deployed statewide. - KGMB/KHNL

The sensors are placed in “strings” which facilitate them “talking to each other,” according to Maui Fire Chief Brad Ventura. The first two strings will be placed in Haleakala and Lahaina.

Each sensor has a photovoltaic battery to automatically recharge and relies on cellular data to send a text message to fire officials when an issue arises.

The cost averages about $10 per acre and the initial influx of sensors is being paid for by the Department of Homeland Security Science and Technology, and the US Fire Administration, with no cost to the state, Moore-Merrell said.

The wildfire sensors are not the only change being implemented following the fatal fire that swept through Lahaina in August, killing 101 people. Emergency access roads are being added to the area as another safety measure, as the state works to rebuild Lahaina, according to Green. Additional evacuation routes are not just limited to Maui but are also being implemented on Oahu.

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