Wildfires are becoming more widespread and destructive. The total area they burn in the United States has expanded by an average of almost 200,000 acres each year for the past three decades. Financially, eight of the 10 most devastating conflagrations in American history happened during just the last five years.
Meanwhile, the global incidence of extreme blazes is projected to increase by 50% before the end of the century, according to a recent report from the United Nations. The agency therefore calls for a radical shift in societal orientation away from reaction and response toward greater prevention and preparedness, including more investment in technical monitoring systems.
Anamitra Pal, an assistant professor of electrical engineering in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at Arizona State University, is leading new research to develop and deploy such a monitoring system for electric power infrastructure. Power lines and other grid equipment stretch through remote wilderness that is susceptible to wildfires, and relative isolation poses a significant hurdle to understanding and managing risks.