New technology could predict, prevent grass fires

Texas A&M professor develops software that may help prevent fires


With droughts and grass fires commonplace in south Texas, one professor thinks he may be stop a grass fire before it even starts. It is an idea that could save life and property. 

"This is technology that has not existed until now," said Dr. Don Russell, an Electrical and Computer Engineering Professor at Texas A&M University.

Russell has put 20 years of research into a nondescript box, which is smaller than most computers. It is what is inside the box that is cutting edge technology.

"We might not keep it from falling, but we can tell them it happened," said Russell, referring to the wide expanse of power lines that run across the state of Texas.

The box is loaded with software and would be installed in an electrical substation. The device could then sense if something were wrong with connecting power lines.

"We have been able to tell utilities to go out and fix things that we know are going to break within a week, two weeks, or three weeks," said Russell.

For the importance of such a warning, one would need to look no further than Bastrop, Texas.

Scars from 2011's Bastrop Complex fire remain, after over 34,000 acres burned. The cause was ruled to likely be caused by power lines.

"Over the past four years, we've had about 4,000 fires that were a direct result of power lines," said Justice Jones, with the Texas Forest Service.

"Many of those kinds of fires can be prevented, or we can find out about them earlier by looking for those failing devices or failing lines, or failing equipment," said Russell.

In the case of Bastrop, Russell believed it may not have prevented the fire, but could have given fire fighters a lead.

State officials are interested in the device, and the technology belongs to the state since it was developed at Texas A&M University.

"No other manufacturer or anyone that sales power equipment sales anything that's remotely to what we have developed here at Texas A&M University," said Russell.

So far, the box has been installed in over 100 locations and by all accounts it has been successful.

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