Wildfire Risk Assessment Report

Athena Intelligence
8 min readFeb 28, 2024

More than a map, a Wildfire Risk Assessment Report is a GIS-based probability analysis of wildfire risk at a location

Athena’s Voice of the Acre® Wildfire Risk Assessment is a GIS report based upon profiles of wildfire risk. Athena takes publicly available data from multiple wildfire and environmental agencies and, using an advanced algorithm, converts this raw data into actionable insights for business decisions.

At a high level, Athena provides information about terrain-based risk. Utilities (or municipalities) supplement this risk assessment with their own data, typically including information on equipment risk, operational priorities and procedures, disaster planning, transportation routes, watersheds, etc. In essence, Athena offers solutions that facilitate more effective decision-making processes.

Before diving into the data sources, the algorithm, and use cases, it is important to understand that these reports are more than maps. Most of these reports cover the client service area plus a 10-mile border area. While the report may initially appear to be a map, it actually provides a wealth of additional information.

Empowering Data-Driven Decisions

Athena’s Voice of the Acre® empowers individuals and businesses by providing access to existing data, rather than relying on modeling assumptions. Presented in an easy-to-understand format, our reports facilitate the prediction of future outcomes.

Athena tackles some of the most intricate data-driven challenges, facilitating informed decision-making in wildfire-prone areas.

Data Sources and Methodology

Our assessment begins with the analysis of raw, disaggregated, and unstructured data sourced from various databases, including historical records of previous wildfires in the area and property damage reports. These diverse datasets are difficult to work with, analyze and correlate. Athena’s algorithm extracts meaningful patterns using statistical evaluation, to create profiles of the land which include probabilistic projections of property damage from wildfire.

Unlike fire simulation models or indexes of risk factors, Athena’s risk maps develop probabilities based on the bioregion. By assessing landscape conditions related to wildfire risk for miles around the location, a picture of the true risk, in the event of ignition, is calculated.

The algorithm evaluates a wide range of factors, including vegetation, topography, solar degree days, proximity to uninhabited areas near human dwellings, housing density, climate, wind patterns, and evapotranspiration data.

To see multiple case studies, across multiple industries, visit our website: AthenaIntel.io

Athena’s Voice of the Acre® empowers individuals and businesses to make evidence-based decisions by relying on existing data rather than making modeling assumptions to predict future outcomes. By address some of the most complex data challenges, Athena enables informed planning in wildfire-prone areas.

What Drives Rankings?

Our profiles are probabilistic predictions based on an assessment of risk for each 30-square-meter (approximately 10,000 square feet or ¼ of an acre) pixel. Each pixel is uniquely identified with an alphanumeric code, ensuring complete traceability to the data sources and a chronological sequence. These pixels are evaluated in relation to all other pixels within a 5-mile radius to determine their likelihood of falling within a wildfire perimeter if a wildfire were to occur in the area.

The raw data is utilized to generate dozens of derivatives and indexes, which are then correlated with conditions in or near historic fires in the bioregion. The rankings are not driven by individual attributes, such as Conditional Flame Length (CFL), but rather by how the CFL interacts with the specific bioregion’s topography, vegetation type, and numerous other factors.

These pixel scores are represented as a rating by color and number. They can be examined individually to assess underwriting risk at the property location level or aggregated across a landscape. The landscape view offers probabilistic predictions for each Wildland-Urban Interface (WUI) block (often the same area as a census block) over the next 12 months, with updates available upon request.

This information can be accessed across a geographically disaggregated portfolio (or risk portfolio evaluation, or by zip code, county, city boundary, H3, or another custom configuration. We have found that WUI blocks/census blocks provide the most accurate representation. The flexibility in presentation stems from data liquidity; computable data can be easily reconfigured.

Athena’s Voice of the Acre® was developed with the assistance of artificial intelligence (more accurately, machine learning) to generate a geospatial risk ranking for complex landscapes. This results in a multi-class index that categorizes conditional wildfire risk, ranging from “Very Low” to “Very High.”

For information about how this relates to your states, visit Public Tableau Profile David.Sypnieski2863 for our interactive report Voice of the Acre Historic Burn Profiles

Interpreting the Colors

The values for colors were originally designed with actuaries from property insurance firms in mind. As such, the colors represent numeric probabilities.

At the end of the year, no matter how many fires occur, or where they occur, less than 1% of areas burned will be in Lowest Risk. Less than 5% of areas burned will be Low Risk. Similarly, over 50% of the areas burned will be Red, usually 62%+.

Green Areas: These areas represent locations where the land is highly unlikely to sustain a wildfire.

Yellow Areas: Yellow areas exhibit moderate to high levels of variability in conditions conducive to wildfires. High variability may arise from natural or artificial firebreaks. In these areas, the risk of fire ignition exists, and (they) the areas may burn if an ignition event occurs within their boundaries.

Orange Areas: These areas have similar characteristics to Yellow Areas, but modestly higher risk and often are in close proximity to a Red area. Orange was designed to help employees at utilities when thinking spatially about those areas of interest where high wildfire risk days prompt special operational procedures. For most states, the Red and Orange areas account for 75% of all burned areas.

Red Areas: Red areas indicate conditions with a high likelihood of ignition and subsequent burning in the event of a wildfire. These conditions exhibit uniformity with minimal variability across the area.

This color-coded system helps users easily grasp the varying degrees of wildfire risk across the assessed regions, providing valuable insights for informed decision-making and proactive wildfire management.

Understanding “Relative” in this Context

Wildfires vary significantly across bioregions due to factors such as vegetation types, tree heights, and wind patterns. Our assessment accounts for these variations. However, our ratings are geofenced at the state level, making them relative to the specific state. Clients may request additional information, such as risk assessments for the entire state or all counties within it, providing a broader perspective.

Data Sources and Partnerships:

Athena’s Voice of the Acre® Wildfire Risk Assessment relies on publicly available data from multiple wildfire and environmental agencies, notably LandFire (Landscape Fire and Resource Management Planning Tools). LandFire data is collaboratively developed by the US Department of the Interior, the USDA Forest Service, and the Nature Conservancy, each with expertise in wildfire risk modeling. This data offers a nationally comprehensive and consistent dataset for vegetation and wildland fire/fuels information, essential for strategic fire and resource management planning and analysis. (For further information, please see Wildfire Risk to Communities: Spatial datasets of landscape-wide wildfire risk components for the United States Forest Service Research Data Archive.)

Additionally, USDA Forest Service’s Wildland Fire and Fuels Research, the University of Colorado Research on Wildfire Databases, and data from other organizations are processed into a new dataset, or synthetic data, that is computable and valuable for decision-makers. Athena makes this available for wildfire modelers, as a data vendor.

Is Voice of the Acre® a fire simulation model?

No. But the Voice of the Acre® is based on both academic research into how fires behave and data from the Wildfire Hazard Potential dataset from LandFire. Some of the LandFire data is derived from fire simulation models.

Athena’s Voice of the Acre® Wildfire Risk Assessment is best thought of as a new, novel or different way to look at wildfire risk. It’s important to recognize that we cannot predict factors such as wind impact on a fire or the placement of fire breaks by humans a year in advance. Our model centers on the interaction between fire and the landscape, serving as a tool to comprehend where the landscape is susceptible to hosting a fire.

That being said, a study analyzing Athena’s probabilistic projections, alongside the location of ignition events and the eventual footprint of multiple wildfires for a California utility, yielded some interesting results.

How much does it cost?

Athena has 3 levels of service:

Basic Service: This tier provides risk assessments for the service territory described above. Athena’s Base Service is a cost-effective tool suitable for a utility’s Wildfire Management Plans (WMP) and for reporting to Public Utility Commissions (PUCs), municipalities, and the public regarding risk and mitigation efforts.

The Basic Service is also available for Community Wildfire Protection Plans (CWPP), Incident Response Plans (IRPs), Wildland Fire Management Plan (WFMP) and municipal disaster planning.

Current utility customers (Investor-Owned Utilities [IOUs] and Publicly-Owned Utilities [POUs]) utilize Athena’s maps for various purposes including WMPs, Public Safety Power Shutoffs (PSPS), maintenance prioritization, vegetation management, and capital expenditure prioritization for asset hardening.

Gold Level Service: In addition to the risk maps described above, The Gold Level tier includes integration of the utility’s asset data. This includes Transmission Lines, Distribution Lines, Substations, Communication Hubs, Equipment Types, Failure rates (e.g., Pole Age & Complexity), as well as any other pertinent data, including Right-of-way and Fee-owned lands.

Additionally, the Gold Level Service offers a Dual Axis map featuring Environmental Risks vs Systemic Risks, more frequent updates based on significant changes in the landscape (such as prescribed burns, burn scars, and significant mitigation projects by communities, water utilities, and other entities).

As a third option, Athena does customized projects.

How long does it take to get my map?

Within a week of the agreement

How do I receive the map/data?

Athena supports all the major GIS programs. Most large utilities and government entities utilize ESRI’s ArcGIS.

Many communities host their CWPP information of the Bintel GIS system. Athena also has experience with Orcle’s Spatial Database.

Can my assets be incorporated into the map?

Yes, with the Gold Service offering.

Can my utility get custom maps ?

Yes. Although most utilities’ operating area maps are in the public data filed with the local PUC, we have found that receiving are area of interest directly from the utility works best. Usually, this also includes a 10-mile buffer.

Talk to us about your needs.

Athena Intelligence is a data vendor with a geospatial, conditional, profiling tool that pulls together vast amounts of disaggregated wildfire and environmental data to generate spatial intelligence, resulting in a digital fingerprint of wildfire risk.

Visit our website (AthenaIntel.io) or review our Case Studies, or reach out to schedule a demonstration.

Clients include communities, power companies, insurance and financial services — with Athena’s geospatial intelligence incorporated into CWPPs, WMPs, PSPS, property underwriting and portfolio risk optimization.

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Athena Intelligence

Athena Intelligence weaves vast amounts of disaggregated environmental data. Drop us a line (Info@Project-Athena.com), or visit www.athenaintel.io