Check Out How This New Wildfire Detection Tool Scans Social Media Pics to Help Detect Early Signs Of Wildfire

June 7, 2024

As Canada’s wildfire season starts, there’s a beacon of hope on the horizon: Following Wildfire. Developed by tentree, Following Wildfire empowers Canadians to protect the world we play in with AI-powered technology used to detect early signs of wildfire. We chatted with Derrick Emsley, tentree co-founder and CEO, and Jordan Doucette, president and CCO of Dentsu Creative Canada, to learn more. —Noa Nichol

Can you share the inspiration and vision behind developing Following Wildfire?

DE: The inspiration for Following Wildfire comes from the urgent need to address the escalating intensity and duration of forest fires, which are devastating nature, communities, and businesses. This urgency resonates with tentree’s purpose to make restoring the planet simple. The advent of AI and computer vision in recent years made us wonder if we could help our forests by reducing forest fire risk, in addition to our current efforts where we plant trees to restore forests lost to wildfires. We see the potential for our Following Wildfire tool to be used to help with this global wildfire problem and enable all Canadians to play an active part in protecting the world we play in. The technology is still in its infancy, which is one of the most exciting things about our Following Wildfire tool. The tech has been tested to detect early signs of wildfire, and the algorithm gets better with every picture it analyzes.

Why is wildfire detection technology more critical now than ever before?

DE: The problem is bigger than ever before and more than half of fires are caused by humans in communities, which are areas that aren’t as monitored as remote areas where most of the investment tends to be focused. AI enables us to scale the ability to identify, assess and geotag forest fires.

How exactly does Following Wildfire use AI to detect early signs of wildfires, and what sets it apart from traditional monitoring methods?

JD: Our proprietary algorithm scans the pictures using #FollowingWildfire to detect early signs of wildfire, like smoke or flames, and integrates regional weather and vegetation data to help assess the potential for spread and burn intensity. Canadians who add the hashtag to their social photos will be scanned by the AI, which can detect signs of smoke or flames that the human eye doesn’t always catch. Plus, outdoor pictures tend to be taken in remote areas such as hiking or camping, which aren’t easily monitored. With about 55% of wildfires not easily discoverable by existing technology, our platform is a way Canadians can work together to reduce the potential impact of wildfires while they are outside, enjoying the outdoors. Ultimately, using our Following Wildfire tool helps to identify risk, location and connect the consumer to the fire authority to contact if needed.

Can you walk us through the process from when an image is tagged with #FollowingWildfire to when a potential wildfire is detected and reported?

JD: Once a photo is tagged with #FollowingWildfire, our proprietary algorithm immediately scans the photo and assigns a risk level based on integrating regional weather and vegetation data. Images that are tagged as high risk are alerted to a trained moderator who contacts the person who posted the image through social media messaging and the local fire prevention authorities.

What role can everyday Canadians play in utilizing Following Wildfire to help prevent wildfires?

DE: Canadians have already helped us plant millions of trees in Canada by purchasing tentree clothing where every item purchased plants trees. Using the Following Wildfire tool is free and something people can use when they are outside enjoying nature. It’s as simple as sharing a photo on social media using our hashtag Following Wildfire and our computer vision algorithm detects signs of smoke or flames in pictures shared that even the human eye doesn’t always catch. For those who want to directly support the restoration of a lost forest due to wildfire, they can sponsor a sapling planting starting at $5 at

How does tentree’s mission of environmental protection and restoration align with the development of Following Wildfire?

DE: We started tentree because we wanted to plant trees to help restore the planet. Since we started in 2012, we have planted over 100 million trees with a large portion of those trees planted here in Canada. What we found in a lot of cases is that we’re supporting after the wildfires have impacted the area. So, we asked ourselves, we have this incredible community and across Canada, we’re all getting impacted each year more and more about wildfires. How can we not just be a part of restoring after the fire but also help prevent and support authorities in culling these fires and making them less impactful? Our Following Wildfire tool answers that question. People can share pictures of their outside adventures and include our hashtag Following Wildfires to help spot smoke or fire that our computer vision technology can detect, even better than the human eye. With about 55% of fires not detected by current technology, tentree’s Following Wildfire is a simple and easy way for everyone to help protect our forests and communities.

What challenges did you face in developing Following Wildfire, and how did your team overcome them?

JD: The challenge hasn’t been around the creation of the AI technology it is more about the need and importance to socialize the Following Wildfire hashtag across Canada. The more people who upload and share their photos, the algorithm gets better with each picture it analyzes.

How do you foresee the impact of Following Wildfire on future wildfire seasons, both in Canada and globally?

JD: As our algorithm gets better, we want to democratize this tool globally. Outdoor lovers all take photos while they’re outside, and countries around the world are struggling to cope with the voracity of wildfires, so a tool like Following Wildfire can really help. Since the beginning, our team has been saying that if we’re able to stop just one fire from growing out of proportion and causing mass destruction, this would’ve already been a massive success.

What additional steps can governments and communities take to support technologies like Following Wildfire in mitigating wildfire risks?

DE: With the rapid evolution of AI, there will be numerous opportunities to use this technology to scale wildfire and reforestation efforts. With the causes and science behind wildfires changing each year, I can share what we know for certain which is our experience on reforestation and the new technologies, which we are using, that help you to map how many trees are in the forest, their viability and overall biodiversity health. Here we utilize veritree technology to better target our tree planting efforts to best contribute to restoring our planet, such as in-field cameras to track changes in biodiversity and record time-lapse videos of changing season, tree growth and moving wildlife and dendrometers to gauge changes in tree health, soil quality and light availability which helps to safeguard young tree saplings against threats like drought and inadequate light.

What are the next steps for tentree in terms of innovation and expanding its environmental initiatives?

DE: We started tentree because we wanted to plant trees to help restore the planet. And we don’t necessarily view ourselves as an apparel company that plants trees, we view ourselves as a tree-planting company that happens to sell apparel. However, our clothing also makes a positive impact on the planet. We operate tentree to be more than just sustainable but restorative, and we created a Restorative Agenda as a roadmap for tentree to forge a new, more restorative path. It’s built around initiatives to support climate, nature and people and we’re welcoming other companies to use it as a blueprint. For our tree planting, we focus our efforts on the greatest need, and since we started in 2012, we have planted over 100 million trees around the world. Some special planting projects in the coming year include the restoration of the boreal forest, which is the earth’s largest carbon storehouse, to help fight climate change, to planting kelp to restore the health of our oceans and Sugar Maple trees in Quebec. In addition, through our sister company we founded, veritree which connects business with verified tree-planting projects we have helped to plant over 50 million trees in the past two years.

Have you seen any early successes or case studies where Following Wildfire has made a significant difference?

JD: The tool just launched last week, but it has already picked up on some suspicious wildfire signs in images. We will be monitoring images during the summer and escalate as appropriate.

How do you ensure the privacy and accuracy of the images analyzed by the AI?

JD: While publicly posted images are used to populate the wildfire detection map, the AI tool is specifically designed to exclude images that have any personal information in them. All images are reviewed by human moderators to ensure privacy and accuracy before they are published on the website. The platform also allows for the public to contact us to, among other things, submit a correction request for any of the images published on the website.

What other areas of environmental protection and restoration is tentree focusing on, and how can technology play a role?                                                                                                                         

DE: We’ve been planting tree saplings since 2012 and have planted over 100 million trees. We are currently using technology to rapidly scale our tree-planting efforts as a leading example of wildfire reclamation in North America. One example is using tech to create predictive models for how to best reforest these areas lost to wildfires. We’re using LIDAR (light detection and ranging or “laser scanning”) mapping to create a forest tree inventory, drone mapping to understand the strength of the forest and inform how we will restore it, trail cameras and bioacoustics sensors to measure biodiversity and finally, planting maps to trace tree survivability.


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