Woodacre, CA. — As California’s record drought conditions exacerbate wildfire danger statewide, FIRESafe MARIN, Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E), and Marin County Fire Department announce the installation of a high-tech, remote wildfire detection system on four critical peaks in Marin county. PG&E funded $207,000 to FIRESafe MARIN to install the special cameras, as well as support software, servers, and panoramic monitoring displays in the Emergency Command Center in Woodacre, where dispatchers will have access to the system 24-hours a day during fire season. The effort is part of an ongoing partnership between PG&E and private, public and community organizations to prevent additional fires from sparking during the California wildfire season, which typically reaches its peak in late fall.
“PG&E and FIRESafe MARIN worked hard to secure this critical funding,” said Todd Lando, Coordinator for FIRESafe MARIN. “Our partnership with PG&E and Marin County Fire Department provided the opportunity to improve the County’s wildfire detection and monitoring capabilities, supplementing the daytime-only volunteer fire lookouts with 24-hour coverage, and views from additional peaks in northern and West Marin.” FIRESafe MARIN will donate the system to the County of Marin.
The remote fire detection system will enable Marin County Fire Department to monitor and detect wildfires around the clock, covering a larger land area than is currently visible from the two fire lookouts at Mt. Tamalpais and Mt. Barnabe. The system will be installed October 20-22, 2014, with cameras and networking equipment at the Gardner Fire Lookout on Mt. Tamalpais’ East Peak, the Dickson Fire Lookout on Mt. Barnabe near Lagunitas, Big Rock Ridge, and Point Reyes Hill. The system will be operable immediately, providing for enhanced fire protection for residents and businesses during the critical period late in the 2014 fire season.
The ForestWatch® camera system, developed by EnviroVision Solutions of Roseburg, Oregon, and South Africa, will help with early fire detection, mapping the exact location of wildfires, and providing GIS information to fire personnel responding to early reports of fires.
“Marin has had an unusual numbers of wildfires that burned for relatively long periods before being reported or located in 2014,” says Deputy Fire Chief Mark Brown of Marin County Fire Department. “An early season fire below the Dickson Lookout on Mt Barnabe burned for several hours before being located, and a recent fire in Roy’s Redwoods Open Space Preserve likely burned for some time before being reported. The advent of cell phones has revolutionized the reporting of wildfires, but Marin still has a recognized issue with locating fires once they’ve been reported. Often times, visitors call to report wildfires in their early stages, but aren’t able to give us an accurate location because they don’t have a good understanding of Marin’s geography. We think the ForestWatch system will be another tool in our tool-chest to help locate fires early, when they are most controllable.”
Fire Chief Jason Weber of Marin County Fire Department highlighted the multi-agency cooperation involved in implementing the system. “The installation of a state of the art system like this would not have been possible without a tremendous amount of work by a large group of dedicated people at the County of Marin DPW Communications Division, Marin County Fire Department, FIRESafe MARIN, PG&E, MERA, and others. Supervisor Katie Rice was instrumental through her support of FIRESafe MARIN and encouragement of the system in the early stages.”
“We live and work in this community and are excited about the state-of-the art capabilities this system will provide to help us detect and manage wildfires. By funding this project, we are adding a high-tech element to our efforts to keep Marin’s communities safe,” says FIRESafe MARIN President Mike Swezy.
PG&E and FIRESafe MARIN are currently collaborating on several other wildfire projects in Marin for the 2014 drought emergency and fire season, including a residential chipper program, and vegetation removal and fire-break projects at Puerto Suello Hill, King Mountain, Woodland Avenue, and Mt. Tamalpais.
Marin’s historic fire lookouts at Mt Tamalpais and Mt Barnabe are currently staffed by a corps of volunteers during the daytime only. Marin County Fire Department intends to continue the volunteer lookout program, supplementing volunteers with the ForestWatch® system, and giving fire managers a new tool that allows them to see what the lookouts see, day or night. An excellent 2012 video titled “ A Day In the Life of a Lookout,” produced by one of marin’s volunteer fire lookouts, is viewable online at http://vimeo.com/48169212.
Statewide, CAL FIRE has responded to more than 5,000 wildfires since January—about 1,000 more than average for this time of year. October is historically the peak of the wildfire season, highlighted by the Vision Fire near Inverness on October 3, 1995 burning 12,000 acres and 45 homes, and the Oakland hills ‘Tunnel Fire” on October 20, 1991 which to this day is the most destructive wildfire in US history, burning 3,354 homes.
FIRESafe MARIN is a non-profit organization dedicated to reducing Wildland Fire hazards and improving fire-safety awareness in Marin, fostering community involvement by building partnerships and providing resources for mitigating fire danger. Formed in the aftermath of the Oakland Hills fire in 1991 to promote fire safety and stimulate communities to collaborate when solving problems related to wildland fire protection, members include all Marin fire departments, homeowners associations, neighborhood groups, community service organizations, emergency management agencies, insurance companies, public land managers, large landowners, and utility companies.
FIRESafe MARIN promotes effective fire safety by seeking and administering wildfire hazard reducing grants, informing groups interested in fuels management, sponsoring educational programs for professionals, coordinating vegetation reduction projects, and developing technical tips for managing vegetation. A new website was launched in Summer 2014 to provide Marin residents with tools, information, and guidelines for creating Defensible Space and wildfire resistant structures (www.firesafemarin.org).
Pacific Gas and Electric Company, a subsidiary ofPG&E Corporation (NYSE:PCG), is one of the largest combined natural gas and electric utilities in the United States. Based in San Francisco, with more than 20,000 employees, the company delivers some of the nation’s cleanest energy to 15 million people in Northern and Central California. For more information, visitwww.pge.com/ andhttp://www.pge.com/about/newsroom/.
ForestWatch® – developed by Roseburg, Oregon and South Africa-based Envirovision Solutions (EVS) – is one of the most advanced automated forest fire detection systems in the world.
Combining programmable high-definition cameras and image processing software, the ForestWatch® system uses mathematical algorithms to analyze imagery of the landscape, automatically detecting changes that may be the first smoke from wildfires. When the system identifies a smoke, it alerts the human operator at a central control center. The operator then uses various system tools to more closely examine the detection, and rapidly dispatch a response if necessary. The system can differentiate between smoke and fog, and integrates with GIS and existing fire management tools providing important data for initial attack of wildfires, and science tools to evaluate fires and firefighting efforts after the fact.
The award-winning ForestWatch® is a powerful decision support tool and early warning system that has been used with great success by governments and forestry industries around the world since the 1990s – protecting your communities and forest assets in a cost-effective and resource-conscious manner. ForestWatch® has recently been upgraded with enhanced functionality and features.
Marin County fire department was formed in 1941 to protect the public and the open space from the risk and danger of wildfire. At that time, personnel utilized equipment that was very well-suited for their mission. During the department's formative years, it built its own fire trucks to provide optimal service to the public. Throughout the years the department has always strived to embrace the most appropriate and beneficial technology to fulfill that mission.
With six stations protecting 251 square miles of unincorporated areas and almost 199,000 acres of State Responsibility Area, all personnel are required to be well trained and very skilled at mitigating all types of all-risk emergency situations. Approaching its 75th year as a County Agency, the Marin County fire department continues to understand the value technology has. They have made huge strides in computer aided resources, fleet design and equipment innovations. Training personnel daily to make sure their skills meet the demands of the job is a top priority. Their abilities and knowledge have a direct influence on their safety and the safety of the communities they serve.