Wyoming Company Fighting Fires with Technology
Frontline Wildfire Defense receives investment from state venture capital fund to expand protection systems
- Published In: Other News & Features
- Last Updated: Nov 26, 2023
In the face of the Lava Mountain Fire in 2016, Teton Valley Ranch Camp near Dubois, was protected from damage. Harry Statter, CEO and founder of Frontline Wildfire Defense, is an alumnus of the camp, and his expertise led the camp owners to implement firewise landscaping and defensible space around structures. (Courtesy photo from Frontline Wildfire Defense)
By Melissa Thomasma
Special to the Wyoming Truth
Frontline Wildfire Defense, a Jackson Hole-based company that produces cutting-edge fire monitoring and protection technology to safeguard buildings, has received a strategic direct investment from the Wyoming Business Council’s (WBC) new Wyoming Venture Capital Fund to drive its expansion across the West.
“Having a partner like the state of Wyoming engage with Frontline is an enormous lift to the company, and we’re excited to move forward with the Wyoming Business Council in growing Frontline,” Harry Statter, the company’s founder and CEO, told the Wyoming Truth.
With the addition of this investment, Frontline Wildfire Defense has raised $12 million in total funding since its 2012 launch. The new funding — the amount of which was not disclosed —marks the second time that the WBC has supported the startup.
Gordon Finnegan, WBC Equity Portfolio Manager, said Frontline Wildfire Defense is an excellent example of a Wyoming-founded company that is now scaling up to have regional and national impact.
“With Kickstart [program] funding [from the WBC], he built his first system and deployed it out near Hoback Ranches,” Finnegan said. “When the Roosevelt Fire happened [in 2018], his system saved a home. Frontline was created, built and proven all in Wyoming.”
Technology meets expanding need
Wyoming’s forests and grasslands are essential to the state’s character, but the proximity of wildness to residential areas carries danger. Known as the wildland urban interface (WUI), structures in this zone are particularly susceptible to destruction by wildfire, according to FEMA.
Ninety-nine million residents across the country live in these WUI zones, which also include 46 million homes valued at over $1.3 million, FEMA reported. Between 2005 and 2020, FEMA found over 89,000 structures were destroyed by wildfires — a tally that costs the nation up to $378.7 billion annually. Meanwhile, the U.S. Forest Service estimates the number of acres in the WUI grows by 2 million annually.
Enter Frontline Wildfire Defense.
Statter, who has a background in forestry and fire-wise landscape maintenance across the West, developed Frontline Wildfire Defense System 2: an integrated wildfire protection solution that combines wildfire tracking software, satellite connectivity and onsite sprinkler hardware to protect structures from wildfires with the same firefighting foam that firefighters use. Currently, the company offers customized fire protection systems to homeowners and businesses, including summer camps and wineries, in Wyoming, Oregon and California.
“Ninety percent of structures are igniting during wildfires from embers,” Statter said. “These embers are traveling six miles up to 24 miles outside of a wildfire perimeter. When you draw a six to 24-mile radius outside of a wildfire perimeter, it encompasses, in some cases, hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses. It’s way too many for firefighters to protect all at once.”
Frontline systems are built on a geospatial software platform that detects and tracks fire. It also utilizes satellite connectivity to activate exterior sprinkler hardware and provide firefighter-level protection to homes and businesses.
Depending on conditions, wildfires expand at an average speed of over 14 miles per hour and can amplify winds up to 10 times the ambient wind speed, according to the Western Fire Chiefs Association. And it’s those unpredictable conditions that put firefighters’ lives at risk.
Between 1990 and 2020, 534 firefighters died in wildland fire incidents, a 2022 report from FEMA and the U.S. Fire Administration stated. The report identified firefighter safety as the top challenge of intensifying wildfire seasons.
Frontline Wildfire Defense’s expansion comes as the number of firefighters continues to plummet nationwide—down from an estimated 300,000 in the 1970s to 38,000 in 2018, according to a study by the Pennsylvania Fire and Emergency Services Institute. Overall call volume also has tripled during the past three decades.
Statter said his company’s technology will ultimately protect firefighters in addition to safeguarding homes, businesses and their occupants. A structure with built-in protection doesn’t require the same level of human involvement to keep safe, he added.
“Wildfire is not this black swan event. This isn’t a disaster,” said Statter of the homes and communities in the WUI in Wyoming and beyond. “This is something that can be avoided. It just takes preparation, planning and understanding what the right mitigations are to put in place at your property to live safely with wildfire….”