About the Program
During California’s record drought conditions of 2014, Fire Safe Marin, Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E), and Marin County Fire Department collaborated on the installation of Marin’s first high-tech, remote wildfire detection system. Fire Safe Marin donated the $207,000 system, funded through a partnership with PG&E, installing the special cameras on four critical peaks in Marin county, and support software, servers, and panoramic monitoring displays in the Emergency Command Center in Woodacre where dispatchers have access to the system 24-hours a day.
Updated in 2018 to high definition cameras with better individual control, the system serves to assist firefighters in identifying new wildfire locations and to monitor fire behavior and smoke conditions from existing fires.
*While Fire Safe Marin and Marin County Fire Department offer a limited “live” view of the cameras online, we want to remind residents and visitors that the view on our website is NOT the full display available to fire managers, and is NOT intended for the public to monitor their neighborhoods for fires or provide evacuation information!
Fire Detection Camera History
In 2018, Marin County Fire Department partnered with PG&E and ALERT Wildfire to update and upgrade the Fire Detection Cameras. ALERT Wildfire is a consortium of three universities–The University of Nevada Reno (UNR), University of California San Diego, (UCSD) and the University of Oregon (UO)–providing access to state-of-the-art Pan-Tilt-Zoom (PTZ) fire cameras and associated tools to help firefighters and first responders:
- discover/locate/confirm fire ignition,
- quickly scale fire resources up or down appropriately,
- monitor fire behavior through containment,
- during firestorms, help evacuations through enhanced situational awareness, and
- ensure contained fires are monitored appropriately through their demise.
“PG&E and Fire Safe Marin worked hard to secure this critical funding,” said Todd Lando, Coordinator for Fire Safe Marin in 2014. “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.” Fire Safe Marin will donate the system to the County of Marin.
The remote fire detection system enables Marin County Fire Department to monitor and detect wildfires around the clock, covering a larger land area than was visible from the two human-staffed fire lookouts at Mt. Tamalpais and Mt. Barnabe. Cameras and networking equipment are installed at the Gardner Fire Lookout on Mt. Tamalpais’ East Peak, the Dickson Fire Lookout on Mt. Barnabe near Lagunitas, Big Rock Ridge, and Mount Vision near Point Reyes. The upgraded system provides for enhanced fire protection for residents and businesses during Marin’s fire season.
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.
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.
About ALERT Wildfire
ALERT Wildfire is an expansion of the first network, ALERT Tahoe, which was a pilot program deploying PTZ cameras and microwave networks in the region surrounding beautiful Lake Tahoe. This initial project was funded through the Nevada Seismological Laboratory (NSL) at UNR, the Tahoe Prosperity Center, the Eldorado National Forest, and the USFS Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit.
Soon thereafter, through a contract with the Nevada Bureau of Land Management, the network quickly grew eastward into northern Nevada where the BLM Wildland Fire Camera Project was born.
With growing successes in the summers of 2014-16, new contracts with the Oregon-Washington and Idaho Bureaus of Land Management, and San Diego Gas and Electric (SDG&E), provided further expansion of new fire cameras and microwave locations, and core university participation as UCSD and UO came aboard.
Sonoma Water, Southern California Edison, Pacific Gas and Electric, CALFIRE, NV Energy, and many counties, including Marin, Sonoma, Contra Costa, and San Luis Obispo have joined ALERT Wildfire to make a statewide network in California a reality.
Due to overwhelming interest in ALERT Wildfire technology, WildfireLIVE, a Nevada C-corp, was spun out of the Nevada Research and Innovation Corporation at UNR to not only help scale university-based operations within their original footprint, but to expand to other markets such as Utah and Australia.
Putting Fire Detection Cameras to Work
During the 2016-2020 fire seasons, ALERT Wildfire provided critical information for over 1,500 fires, including:
- the LNU, SCU, CZU, August and North Complex Fires in 2020;
- the Kincade, Cave, Maria, Saddleridge, Woolsey, Lilac, Wall, Whittier, Thomas, Tule, Woodchuck, Earthstone, Draw, Snowstorm, Hot Pot, and Emerald fires;
- an arson spree in Lake Tahoe in 2016;
- and hundreds more.
In late 2017, the devastating North Bay Complex and Thomas fires brought into sharp focus the need to quickly expand coverage across the western US. Two years later, the ALERT North Bay network provided real-time monitoring of the Kincade Fire from inception and helped provide an environment where no lives were lost nor injuries in the first 24 hours of the fire during wide-spread evacuations–a first for a large escaped, wind-driven fire in California.
The loss of life and infrastructure, especially in 2017 and 2018, has only strengthened our resolve to implement a comprehensive network throughout the western US. Although the three partner universities had been building their own redundant microwave networks to reliably acquire imagery, it became obvious that deploying new infrastructure to cover large areas in a short period of time was not realistic.
Expanding Fire Detection Camera Coverage
A new strategy was adopted in early 2018 to install cameras on existing third-party microwave networks, build larger virtual networks, produce regional coverage, and do it quickly. In this model, “towers of opportunity” (e.g., Wireless Internet Service Providers, state and county services, and other private point-to-point communications infrastructure) are outfitted with fire cameras and associated equipment to potentially allow 100+ fire cameras to be installed in a single season. The data from these confederated networks are seamlessly incorporated into NSL’s back-end acquisition systems and presented on our Amazon Web Services website in a straightforward manner.
To firefighters and first responders, it means “more cameras, more quickly”, which equals better decision-making capabilities. Now dozens and dozens of cameras can be installed in a single month. 300 new cameras were installed in the year following the Camp Fire (2018) in California alone, with another 300 new cameras in the Western US during the historic 2020 fire season.
There is More Work Ahead
Installations in 2021 should top another 175+ fire cameras across 5 states! A goal of installing 1,000 cameras in California by 2022 and efforts to scale up in other states and countries are underway. Stay tuned!