The successful mountaintop AlertWildfire camera system, pioneered by the University of Nevada, Reno at Lake Tahoe and Nevada’s Great Basin to provide early detection and fire behavior intel, is expanding to Sonoma County, which was hit hard by wildfires in 2017.
“This is a great step for Sonoma County, where as much as 80 percent of acreage not burned last year is at risk, and a significant fraction of burned areas could also re-burn due to fuels that are four to five feet high in spots,” Graham Kent, AlertWildfire project director and director of the Nevada Seismological Lab, said. “We’ll bring the same state-of-the-art technology we’ve deployed in the Sierra Nevada, San Diego County and Orange County.”
The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors, acting as the directors of the Sonoma County Water Agency, approved $422,000 for a fire camera pilot project in the Lake Sonoma watershed. They anticipate the AlertNorthBay cameras will be installed and working by the end of September.
“We learned a painful lesson last October about what these extreme weather events can produce in terms of wildfires and we’re seeing already this year that it is the new normal,” Sonoma County Water Agency director and Board of Supervisors Chair James Gore said. “I look forward to building on this effort and developing a regional network.”
The funding, approved Aug. 7, will pay for the installation, maintenance and operation of the real-time cameras for the first year. The AlertWildfire group, a consortium of universities, including Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego (through which the funding for this project will flow), 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,” 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 they afford 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.”
The Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office’s microwave communications network has the bandwidth to support the project and will incorporate some of the cameras at existing microwave tower sites.