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Remotely Monitored Video Cameras Replace Some Human Fire Lookouts

Remotely monitored video cameras are replacing some human fire lookouts on mountaintops around the Northwest.

A private non-profit called the Douglas Forest Protective Association was the first in the region to switch to remote camera fire detection. The southwest Oregon-based association deployed its first system in 2007.

The firefighting consortium's Kyle Reed said it has now replaced all of its manned fire lookouts with video cameras.

"We have 30 cameras that are monitored here out of our office in Roseburg. That is done by a staff of about six or seven people," said Reed, a fire prevention specialist. "In years past, you've had to have at least one lookout for every tower and probably half as many again to relieve those people as well. So there is quite a savings there."

Reed said his association's detection center now monitors smoke cameras not just for its own private timberlands, but also on contract to the U.S. Forest Service and state Department of Forestry.

Reed added his South Africa-based camera vendor is fine tuning software to automatically detect forest fires in the video feed around the clock.

Reed estimated a $50,000 to $80,000 cost to install and connect a smoke camera on a new tower built from the ground up on a mountaintop. If a camera system can be placed on top of a historic fire lookout with existing power and telecomm connectivity, then the cost comes way down to $5,000 to $10,000.

The website for Envirovision Solutions LLC lists the effective range of its ForestWatch camera system as 15 miles. The company has also deployed the remote fire detection system in Alberta, Canada, Europe and its home turf of South Africa.

Throughout the West, the majority of historic lookouts are unstaffed during fire season due to budget constraints or decay. Some manned fire lookouts have given way to aerial fire detection using spotters in planes.

Credit Kevin Mooney / Northwest News Network
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Northwest News Network

Thirty fire lookout cameras scattered across southwest Oregon are monitored at a central control room in Roseburg.
/ Douglas Forest Protective Association
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Douglas Forest Protective Association
Thirty fire lookout cameras scattered across southwest Oregon are monitored at a central control room in Roseburg.

Copyright 2014 Northwest News Network