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SWIR Assistance in Fire and Rescue

As many as 70,000 wildfires occur yearly in the United States, with 7.6 million acres of land burned in 2022. As climate change heightens, we see higher temperatures especially in areas that predominantly do not see these levels of temperature. As more lush areas experience higher temperatures, more plants and land will begin to dry out, creating the perfect accelerant leading to an increase of brush and wildfires. With the increase in opportunities of wild and brushfires to occur, the need for new technologies to detect and control fires increases. These technologies allow firefighters to see through the smoke and ash to detect fire sources and objects including survivors and potential hazards.

SWIR (shortwave infrared) wavelengths are not as affected by scattering, leaving sensors and cameras who have taken advantage of this ability to see through visibly obscuring elements like smoke and haze. For search and rescue teams, it is vital to maintain visibility when traversing environments that have been overrun by fire so not only the team can be safe but help identify trapped victims as well. Another advantage to the use of SWIR is its ability to use flames as a light source. The heat source provides perfect illumination into the infrared region that the SWIR camera employed can capture the flames and surrounding area.

satellite visible and swir image of wildfire

Image of a fire burning in Klamath National Forest provided by Digital Globe’s WorldView-3 satellite

With its transmittance properties, SWIR cameras can view past aerosols like smoke and ash that optical cameras using visible or NIR image sensors otherwise are unable to. Employing SWIR sensors into cameras fitted onto drones or headsets will assist first responders on the ground in their efforts to locate sources of fire to prevent them from spreading or identifying trapped persons in optical settings that visible and NIR systems cannot. Current devices that use SWIR sensors are priced too highly that many fire agencies are unable to budget for. Employing the use of SeeDevice’s QMOSTM (Quantum enhanced CMOS-SWIR) low-cost image sensor would certainly make these devices more affordable, allowing for more fire departments to adopt these lifesaving technologies. Coupled with the sensor’s fast integration time, fire and rescue teams can get real-time image data to map safety routes and track the movement of the fires so that surrounding residents can be evacuated in a timely manner and responders could prevent the flames from spreading into other areas.