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New San Diego Technology Allows Firefighters To ‘See’ Through Wildfire Smoke

San Diego County Supervisor Ron Roberts and Mike Niggli, president and COO of SDG&E, talk to KPBS about a new camera to see through wildfire smoke.


Ron Roberts, San Diego County Board of Supervisors, Chair, District 4

Mike Niggli, president and COO, SDG&E

Mike Mohler, CalFire captain and spokesman


A $200,000 infrared video camera that can relay timely wildfire images to fire commanders was unveiled today as regional officials gathered at Montgomery Field to promote cooperative disaster response among government agencies, businesses and universities.

"San Diegans have a history of coming together during emergencies, as do local governments and private businesses,'' San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders said. "That same cooperative spirit is on display here today, along with some of the most innovative fire fighting technology in the nation.''

The camera, which is mounted under a Cal Fire spotter aircraft, can "see'' through smoke to enable firefighters to see temperatures within a wildfire, signifying hot spots or burned-out areas. That also helps pilots pinpoint the best spots for water drops.

"The images from this camera will improve firefighter safety and usher in a new era of real-time tactical information, regardless of the conditions,'' said Ron Roberts, chairman of the San Diego County Board of Supervisors.

The images would be a part of the "next generation incident command system'' that provides data on where people and equipment are deployed, Roberts said. He plans to ask the board Sept. 25 to approve $14,400 to cover the cost of moving the system from MIT's Lincoln Labs to UC San Diego's Supercomputer Center.

San Diego Gas & Electric contributed $100,000 to the San Diego Regional Fire & Emergency Services Foundation that provided a grant to the San Diego County Fire Authority, then matched with county funds to cover the cost of the camera system.

SDG&E also installed 29 cameras atop transmission towers on the Sunrise Powerlink route that automatically alert the utility to a perceived threat and planned to install seven more on the section running through Cleveland National Forest, officials said.

"The availability of real-time visual data for firefighters from remote locations around the county -- and from the air during actual incidents -- is a huge benefit in coordinating our fire response,'' said Thom Porter, Cal Fire's San Diego Unit Chief and county Fire Authority Unit Chief. "This capability pushes us way beyond what we've been able to do in the past.''

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