Cal Fire firefighters monitor the AI and ALERTCalifornia camera feeds. Photo courtesy of Cal Fire

Time Magazine on Tuesday named California’s artificial intelligence-powered wildfire detection system one the world’s best inventions of 2023.

The ALERTCalifornia system developed by UC San Diego, Cal Fire and DigitalPath is one of 200 “extraordinary inventions that change lives,” according to Time.

TIME cover
TIME cover

“Detecting wildfires before they spread is a challenge now plaguing much of the world,” the magazine said. “University of California San Diego’s public safety program, AlertCalifornia, is employing AI to help.”

When the AI spots a potential fire on ALERTCalifornia’s network of more than 1,050 internet-connected cameras, the system alerts firefighters and calculates the percentage of certainty and estimated location of the incident.

If a fire is confirmed by trained watchstanders, firefighters respond quickly to extinguish it before spreading. The camera network is also used to provide real-time data to quickly scale fire resources, assist evacuations, and monitor fire behavior.

“With the frequency and severity of wildfires in California increasing at an alarming rate over the last decade, remote sensing data and AI have never been more essential to develop effective and time-critical plans for wildfire prevention, protection, mitigation and response,” said Neal Driscoll, ALERTCalifornia director and a professor of geology and geophysics at Scripps Institution of Oceanography. 

The AI tool became available to all 21 Cal Fire dispatch centers in September. The new tool is especially effective in spotting anomalies in remote locations and has proven effective at night, even alerting firefighters before 911 calls. 

For example, on Sept. 11 the AI detected and alerted firefighters to a potential ignition at 5:19 a.m. near Grass Valley. Even though this fire was near a residential area, the first 911 call was not made until 6:01 a.m., and firefighters were already at the scene. Early detection and rapid response allowed firefighters to keep the fire contained to less than a quarter acre.

The AI system also continues to learn. After a detection, Cal Fire provides feedback to the AI system. With each incident, the AI learns and improves.

“Cal Fire remains resolute in our mission to protect the people and natural resources of California, and our collaboration with ALERTCalifornia is a testament to our relentless pursuit of innovative solutions. Together, we are shaping a safer and more secure future for our state,” said Cal Fire Director Joe Tyler.

ALERTCalifornia cameras can be viewed by the public 24 hours a day at and Cal Fire incidents and updates are available at

Chris Jennewein is Editor & Publisher of Times of San Diego.