Eyes Up – Medford News, Weather, Sports, Breaking News

At least a dozen more cameras are planned across southern Oregon so firefighters and the general public can scan the landscape for early signs of fire

From a White City fire station, Justin Bates, Assistant Chief of Strategic Services for the Jackson County 3 Fire District, checks for fires on nearby mountain peaks using footage from a WILDFIREAlert camera located near Eagle Point. [Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune]

A field crew from the University of Oregon Hazards Lab installs an ALERTWildfire camera on Long Mountain using a data tower provided by Rogue Broadband. [Photo courtesy of Fire District 3]

Area firefighters will soon have at least a dozen more cameras in their arsenal of tools for early fire detection and to help respond to large-scale emergencies.

The Rogue Valley Council of Governments is partnering with local government agencies and the University of Oregon Hazards Lab (ohaz.uoregon.edu) to erect 12-16 additional high-definition ALERTWildfire cameras in southern Oregon during the next year.

The cameras allow firefighters, and even the general public, to monitor the interface areas between the city and nature in search of the first wisps of smoke that could signal a potential fire.

The Hazards Lab received some $4.5 million in funding from lawmakers in February to be used for 29 additional cameras statewide. Additionally, RVCOG is working to secure funding from FEMA that would cover additional cameras for southern Oregon.

Many of the cameras currently operating under the state program, administered by the Hazards Lab, are in southeast and western Oregon. The new cameras will be concentrated in Rogue Valley and the Bend, Richmond and La Pine areas.

Video feeds from the cameras, located on mountaintops and in various towers, are available online 24/7 for the public and emergency response agencies. A time-lapse feature examines periods of time to trace the origins of a possible fire, and artificial intelligence software in the system can detect smoke and alert emergency responders.

Local firefighters say the cameras are so effective they will figure out how to fund them if needed.

The first camera for southern Oregon was installed last summer at Cave Junction on an IV data center, with use of the tower being offered through a partnership with Project A and Rogue Broadband.

Two recent camera installations have been made on Mount Baldy near Ashland and outside of Eagle Point near Long Mountain. Long Mountain’s camera almost immediately helped firefighters get a quick look at a fire in the Antelope Road area above Agate Lake that could have been serious.

“We had a reported fire near Lake Agate. I was able to log in and move the camera around to zoom in on where the fire was. We saw fire and a column of smoke, so we immediately knew and saw that it was a real fire,” said Justin Bates, assistant chief of strategic services for Jackson County Fire District 3.

“So many times we get a call from someone saying, ‘I think I’m seeing smoke in the area’, but we have no way of knowing whether to send a fire truck over there. or seven. Sometimes it’s a barrel burn, and there’s no risk. These cameras allow us to see the area… and we can determine what we are dealing with fairly quickly.

Bates said local firefighters were pleased to have more cameras and have identified a number of sites for them.

In recent years, local firefighters have been permitted to use a similar camera system run by the Oregon Department of Forestry with permission. A statewide committee is currently working on interoperability between the ODF and ALERTWildfire systems. A big difference between the two systems is that the ODF cameras are for official use only while the ALERTWildfire system has a public interface.

Bates said firefighters have more improved access to cameras than the public, but even the basic functions of the camera system are extremely useful for fire watchers.

“We’ve improved usability, so we can connect to the back and control them so we can zoom and pan the camera over the area we need to look at,” Bates said.

“If someone is on the website and using the frontend, they will be able to see it moving when we access it. When we put out the fire near Agate Lake a few weeks ago, I heard the call from home and was able to quickly log on – because it’s all web-based – and check the area. People in the office could see me zooming into the fire.

Ann Marie Alfrey, Executive Director of RVCOG, said the benefits of the ALERTWildfire system cameras were exciting. Alfrey said she hopes to see 10 to 12 cameras installed over the next six months to a year.

RVCOG will endeavor to facilitate shared use of cameras, establish protocols and identify necessary camera sites. The recently formed Rogue Valley Fire and Rescue Alliance has been helpful in communicating on the cameras, which cost around $6,000 each, for the Central Point, Gold Hill, Eagle Point, Shady Cove and Rogue River areas.

“So many resources will be saved and put to better use with the installation of these cameras. Honestly, we’re a little behind. California has over 800 cameras currently in use,” Alfrey said.

“We were working on getting them even before the Almeda fire. Would it have had a huge impact? It wouldn’t have put out the fire or anything, but it would have been a welcome tool in the toolbox of firefighters and members of the public who had to evacuate.

Alfrey said the cameras would fill in some gaps and make better use of resources overall.

“FEMA always says, ‘Never waste a good disaster,'” she said.

“There is always a ton to learn and analyze after a natural disaster. What worked? What went wrong? This is going to be a really vital tool and improve efficiency in so many ways.

ALERTWildfire was born over a decade ago and is a consortium of the University of Nevada, Reno, University of California San Diego, and University of Oregon.

So far, the camera network has provided critical information on more than 1,000 fires in five states – California, Nevada, Oregon, Idaho and Washington – almost entirely through existing third-party telecommunications towers, with partnership agreements to continuous operation.

To mitigate privacy concerns, “blurring” technology is used to prevent viewing of individual structures, and no controls are provided to the public to control, zoom, or direct the cameras.

For more information or to access the cameras, see ALERTWildfire.org

Contact journalist Buffy Pollock at 541-776-8784 or [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @orwritergal.

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