Risk assessment system aims to stop forest fires in their tracks

New Innovator: Femtofire uses climatic and other significant factors to actively locate and identify fire risks

While forest fires tend to be associated more with hot than temperate climates, Irish forests can also go up in smoke and it was a devastating fire in Killarney National Park that inspired Louis Walsh to develop Femtofire, a fire risk assessment system aimed at preventing forest fires before they happen.

Walsh is a recent graduate of UCC, where he studied digital humanities, combining computer science with geography. He is passionate about doing his bit for climate change and points out that the benefits of carbon-absorbing forests are effectively wiped out if these same forests go up in flames. With forest fires expected to increase with global warming, Walsh believes that a system such as Femtofire, which helps forestry managers to take pre-emptive action, is the way to go.

Femtofire is still at an early stage in its development, and Walsh, who has been participating in the Ignite accelerator run by UCC, is finishing out his MPV and preparing it for pilot testing in a few weeks’ time. The product will have its official launch before the arrival of the summer heat increases the risk of forest fires.

“Femtofire is a SaaS product linked to an online platform,” says Walsh. “Our system codes safe areas as green, while danger or risk areas are coded orange or red as the situation demands. We alert users to risk by sending push notifications or an SMS to their device. Femtofire is a dynamic system that uses climatic and other significant factors to actively locate and identify fire risks within a forest and provide real-time updates for an area.


“Existing warnings, often from local or national authorities, usually only offer weekly or monthly updates and generalise fire risk measurements over large sections of land,” Walsh adds. “Our mapping system offers 24-hour access to what’s happening and highlights risk within individual forests.”

Weather, and specifically temperature and wind speed, are obvious risk factors for combustion but Walsh says there are others such as the flammability of the trees in a plantation as some species are more fire resistant than others. Human activity can also pose a risk as can forest floor plant litter, which builds up over time, dries out like tinder and has the potential to ignite if hit by lightning, for example.

To build product awareness and early sales, Walsh is initially targeting the Irish market and specifically privately operated forests, which account for roughly 50 per cent of forested areas here. His next big push will be into Europe, especially countries such as Greece, Turkey, Spain and France, where wildfires are common at certain times of the year and predictive risk systems thin on the ground.

Getting there, however, will require an injection of cash and Walsh is looking to raise around €250,000 in the coming months. To date, the business has been tightly bootstrapped with Walsh doing most of the work himself on a budget of about €10,000 between personal investment and innovation voucher support from Enterprise Ireland.

“What we’re trying to do is to flag up risk and stop a fire before it starts instead of reacting when it may already be too late,” Walsh says. “People don’t think of Ireland as having forest fires, but there were 2,500 incidents here in 2021. During the same period, within the EU a significant 700,000 hectares of forest was lost to fire. We’re fighting a losing battle on climate change if we’re allowing our forests to burn down and the situation is only going to get worse if we don’t do something about it.

“A 50 per cent increase in forest fires is predicted by the year 2100 so we need to get a handle on the situation now.”