40 fire wildfire detection cameras to be install in the North Bay

The cameras can spot a fire soon after it ignites.

FireAlert camera
Technicians install an AlertWildfire camera. File photo from the University of Nevada.

Several organizations are cooperating to install a network of cameras in the North Bay area of California that can detect wildfires soon after they start. At a perfect location with a 360° view the near infrared sensors can spot the signature of heat on up to 5,000 square miles, and up to 20,000 square miles at night. If a second camera detects the same heat source or smoke, the triangulation can tell dispatchers the exact location, enabling firefighters to get to the scene quickly.

A supercomputer attached to the network can then model the fire’s spread in 30 seconds to predict where it will be burning in the next several hours.

Recently one of the $2,600 cameras was installed on a hill that overlooks the path of the deadly Tubbs fire that burned into Santa Rosa in 2017.

Below is an excerpt from the Press Democrat:

With support from PG&E, the network plans to cover Sonoma, Mendocino, Napa, Lake and Marin counties with up to 40 such cameras by the end of March.

Thirteen of the pan-tilt-zoom cameras are already operating in the North Bay, with their images available to emergency dispatchers and to the public at alertwildfire.org.

The broader goal is to establish 200 new cameras statewide this year and Gov. Gavin Newsom’s budget includes funding for 100 more, said Graham Kent, director of the seismological laboratory at the University of Nevada, Reno, that started the program.

The Sonoma County Water Agency is also supporting the camera installation project.

The AlertWildfire group, a consortium of universities, including Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego, Sonoma State University, and Oregon State University will build and maintain the system.

“These cameras will provide us with early fire detection and a level of situational awareness that is critical as we adapt to new wildfire behavior,” Sonoma County Water Agency director and Board of Supervisors Chair James Gore said.

The fire-camera system is built to the specifications of the University of Nevada, Reno’s Seismological Lab’s earthquake monitoring communications network based in their College of Science. It features private high-speed internet connectivity capable of transmitting seismic, environmental and climate data, in addition to the live-streaming high-definition video from the fire cameras.

“These fire camera networks realize their full functionality when a cluster of cameras are deployed in one area and to supply early detection, 911 confirmation, and situational awareness as well as triangulation to locate the fires,” Neal Driscoll, a professor at UC San Diego and co-leader of AlertWildfire, said. “Sonoma County Water Agency’s vision has made the North Bay region the next fire camera cluster.”

map AlertWildfire system
The dots represent the locations of fire detecting cameras in the AlertWildfire system.

Dozens of cameras are already installed and working in Southern California, the Lake Tahoe area, and locations in Nevada.

NASA to launch 200 satellites that will detect wildfires

CubeSat
CubeSat. NASA photo.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration plans to launch a network of 200 small satellites that will detect wildfires within 15 minutes after a blaze grows to be at least 35 to 50 feet across. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory is working on a concept for a network of space-based sensors called FireSat in collaboration with Quadra Pi R2E. Within three minutes of detecting a fire from orbit, FireSat would notify emergency responders in the area of the fire.

Robert Staehle, lead designer of FireSat at JPL, and his team first presented the concept of FireSat in 2011 to the joint NASA/U.S. Forest Service Tactical Fire Remote Sensing Advisory Committee. They spent the subsequent years refining their understanding of fire monitoring needs and technological requirements.

“Such a system has only now become feasible at a reasonable cost, enabled by advances in commercial microelectronics that NASA, JPL and universities have tested in space via CubeSat experiments, and by software technology originally developed to give Mars rovers and Earth orbiters more autonomy in their science observations,” Staehle said.

This sounds like science fiction, but launches should begin in 2017 with a fully operational system of FireSat sensors in space by June of 2018.

CubeSats are 4 inches by 4 inches by 4 inches and weigh about 3 pounds. They are generally built from off the shelf components at a cost of thousands rather than millions of dollars.