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SPECIAL COVERAGE: Living With Wildfires: San Diego Firestorm 10 Years Later

Cameras Keep Watch Over Fire-Prone Regions Across San Diego County

Photo credit: Richard Klein

Research geophysicist Frank Vernon points to streaming imagery from the AlertSoCal network at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, Oct. 5, 2016.

Dozens of earthquake sensors located atop mountains and hillsides across San Diego County are also being used to help detect wildfires. The high-tech instruments that measure seismic motion and monitor climate hazards, are also equipped with cameras that allow fire officials to keep watch over remote fire-prone regions.

“If a fire were to start it would be seen on these cameras right away,” said Frank Vernon, research geophysicist at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, and leader in the development of the alert network.

“You can see the state of the county on a real time basis,” he said, pointing to a large screen displaying dozens of streaming images.

The AlertSoCal system includes 64 cameras positioned in 16 remote locations across San Diego, Riverside and Imperial counties. The project is a partnership among UC San Diego, the County of San Diego and San Diego Gas & Electric.

Vernon said it represents a new era in firefighting and gives fire officials widespread views of tinder-dry mountains and canyons and on-demand time-lapse imagery for up to 12 hours.

Some of the most recently installed cameras are equipped with pan-tilt-zoom capability, Vernon said.

“We can actually zoom in at specific things, point at something over here and get better higher resolution imagery,” he said.

The real time imagery can allow firefighters to gain control of a blaze at the first wisp of smoke, leading to earlier evacuations and saving lives and homes, Vernon said. He wishes the technology would have been fully implemented in 2003.

“In 2003 I was in Scripps Ranch and was one of the first houses burned down on that morning in October,” Vernon said. “Most of my neighborhood burned down.”

Vernon said he’s in the process of testing even more advanced technology: cameras that can detect infrared and software that tracks smoke. The cameras can automatically alert first responders of a fire without a person having to monitor streaming imagery.

The online hazard alert system is also accessible to the general public, Vernon said.

“Anybody can look at these things,” he said. “The incident command centers are looking at them, I will be looking at them since I am very interested in this topic and then the general public as well can look at them also.”

See the streaming imagery here.

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