PORTLAND, OR (KPTV) – Technology that has expanded across the state of Oregon is helping fire prevention specialists to spot fires in rural areas quicker before they grow to something more catastrophic.
Oregon has seen an increase in megafires in the last 20 years. The Bootleg Fire is the latest megafire and is burning right now in southern Oregon.
Fires in rural areas, where few people live, and work can easily go undetected by humans, which could lead to thousands of acres burning before anyone notices. Previously these kinds of fires would be spotted by a person manned at a lookout station.
As these lookout stations got older and became expensive to replace, the Douglas Forest Protective Association found a new alternative. They started implementing cameras that could detect changes, including the development of smoke.
Douglas County implemented the first cameras in 2006 and switched to them completely in 2011. From there, they quickly expanded across the state.
“We can put these up either at a new site from the ground up or we can put them up on existing infrastructure,” said Kyle Reed, a fire prevention specialist with Douglas Forest Protective Association.
The cameras work by taking a series of images and sending them to a staffed fire prevention center. The camera then takes another series of images just moments later.
“Essentially, the computer is then comparing those images, so it’s looking for differences. So, it could be a column of smoke, or it could be a cloud has moved by, or a vehicle has driven through the area and kicked some dust-up,” Reed said.
Someone then interprets what the change is in the pictures. If they see smoke, the camera can tell them exactly where the fire is and which dispatch center needs to be notified. The cameras can also be looked at live.
“We can gain a lot of information as we’re responding, what that fire is doing. Is it growing, just based on the size of the smoke column, the color of that smoke column, all that stuff,” said Reed
Wednesday, Reed said that they were able to spot some smoke thanks to one of the cameras. And Monday night, parts of the state experienced lightning. Reed said the cameras helped them find about eight to ten fires.
“Those were all very small at the time of detection,” he said. “Either a single tree that was struck and burning, or just a little bit of ground fuel. So, we were able to get resources directed into those areas very quickly.”
Reed said the cameras may not be as helpful in urban areas because people who live in those areas will spot fires and call them in much quicker. However, in rural areas with nearly no people, these cameras become crucial.
Right now, there are 81 of these cameras being used across Oregon.