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Fire cameras activated at Tahoe, newest camera tracking smoke from King Fire

Date: 2014-09-21
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University of Nevada, Reno’s seismological network does double duty as fire lookout system

Above: The Nevada Seismological Laboratory, a public service department in the University of Nevada, Reno’s College of Science, is building out its earthquake monitoring network with high-definition cameras on their wireless, digital microwave communications network, enabling high-speed Internet capabilities anywhere, anytime in the Lake Tahoe basin. This shows a view from South Lake Tahoe looking northwest. Photo courtesy of the University of Nevada, Reno, captured from the new Angel’s Roost fire camera at South Lake Tahoe.

The University of Nevada, Reno’s newest mountaintop camera at Lake Tahoe has just been installed, and has been tracking the smoke from the King Fire in El Dorado County, Calif., which has been inundating the Tahoe Basin and Reno area with smoke in the afternoons.

The HD infrared-capable camera, installed last week at Heavenly’s Angel’s Roost at the south shore, is one of four mountaintop observatories in the Nevada Seismological Laboratory network that rings Lake Tahoe. The live-streaming cameras are available to fire agencies now, and a system to allow public viewing of the camera feeds is in the works.

“The fire cameras, and especially the Internet backbone and network that supports it, are a valuable tool for fire officials and Tahoe researchers who are studying the lake’s environment,” Graham Kent, director of the University’s Nevada Seismological Laboratory, said. “Fire agencies have been monitoring the region with our cameras for more than a year now, and this new one gives us a great vantage point for the current fire.”

The three cameras that are in place are giving a good perspective on how the smoke is moving around the Tahoe Basin and towards the Reno area, Kent said. The cameras can tilt, pan and zoom for greater detail. A time-lapse video from the camera at Angel’s Roost (image above) showing the smoke can be viewed on the Seismological Laboratory’s YouTube Channel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z1VIclWolOE, with more video at https://www.youtube.com/user/nvseismolab.

The four mountaintop observatories at Lake Tahoe can host remote sensing equipment that can transmit seismic, environmental and climate data through the Nevada Seismological Laboratory’s statewide seismic network. The network cameras, which give real-time 360-degree views, are a critical help in spotting wildfires as early as possible so fire crews can respond before the fire is out of control.

On the evening of Aug. 9, the University’s Snow Valley Peak camera was being used by Mac Heller of the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit of the U.S. Forest Service to scan the area, which had been getting lightning for several days. He saw thin wisps of smoke in the Spooner Summit area and contacted the Forest Service’s dispatch center in Camino, Calif.

“Once the suppression resources were on scene, they reported it as a half an acre,” Heller said. “Who knows how big the Spooner fire would have been if it had been reported later or the next day or so.”

This new network can also support critically important activities such as rapid set-up of incident command stations within hours anywhere in the field with very high data rates, Kent, a professor in the University’s College of Science, said. Since this a private network, it is not susceptible to increased public Internet traffic following high-impact catastrophic events—earthquakes, floods, and fires.

The first camera installed on the system tracked the Bison fire last year, and the second is in place on Tahoe’s north shore. The fourth in the system is slated to be installed in October in the mountains on Tahoe’s west shore. Through collaborations with the Bureau of Land Management, the Forest Service and other public agencies, other mountain peaks around Truckee and the Great Basin will see fire cameras in the near future.

- People, Places & Things/9-1-1magazine.com (via University of Nevada,Reno, 9/17/14)

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