BLM and UNR install fire-spotting cameras on Great Basin peaks

Four remote mountain peaks in central and northeastern Nevada are home to a new real-time camera fire-detection system that is helping to protect Nevada’s forests and rangelands.

A Bureau of Land Management Nevada grant awarded to the University of Nevada, Reno, to develop, install, and maintain a remote camera system, is in the initial phase of a five-year planned comprehensive network to cover vast areas of the state for early fire detection and response.

“BLM Nevada is excited to partner with the University to assist us in the protection of public lands,” Paul Petersen, acting State fire management officer for the BLM, said. “These cameras provide fire management personnel in detection and situational awareness. For instance, they can be positioned during lightning storms to detect potential ignitions. These are our first steps in building a cutting-edge camera network to protect and conserve forest and sagebrush ecosystems and reduce invasive species that spread after wildland fires.”

Soon after being installed, using the camera system’s near-infrared detection capability, the camera on Midas Peak spotted a large lightning-strike fire 104 miles away near Jordan Valley, Oregon. Shortly thereafter, the BLM and their fire fighting partners responded to another fire north of Interstate 80 between Winnemucca and Elko. The Midas Peak camera provided valuable information for BLM’s incident command center in responding to that fire as well.

Lightning strikes from thunderstorm systems that recently drenched northern Nevada ignited several fires in the Tahoe Basin as well. The fires were identified with the camera system that rings Lake Tahoe, demonstrating the success of the pilot phase there that set the stage for the current BLM/NSL initiative.

“The recent thunderstorms and lightning strikes that have blanketed the area put our Tahoe system to the test, and we’ve found the equipment to work extremely well,” Graham Kent, director of the University’s Nevada Seismological Laboratory, said. “We’re pleased the BLM has decided to add the camera system to their fire-fighting arsenal.”

The new fire-camera system is built on the backbone of the University’s Seismological Lab’s earthquake monitoring communications network, which features private high-speed internet connectivity capable of transmitting seismic, environmental and climate data, in addition to the live-streaming high-definition images.

“The beauty of this system is that not only can fire service personnel look for indications of fire, but the public interface can be used by anyone, at any time, to look for fires in a crowd-sourcing fashion,” Ken Smith, associate director of the Nevada Seismological Laboratory and point person on this BLM project, said. “The more eyes the better. While fire agencies can move the cameras with active pan-tilt-zoom functionality, the public can observe the real-time views as well as the time-lapse functions with a 15-minute, 30-minute and 12-hour time-lapse utility built into the web page viewer.”

The BLM already has a network of personnel who routinely tap into the system, based on quick-views through the Seismological Lab’s website. If a potential fire is recognized, they can take control of the camera and zoom to that location.

“We have almost 500 people looking at the public site at various times, and 12 duty officers and dispatchers have access to the cameras for tactical fire response, 24/7,” Petersen said. “The communications network behind the camera system also provides radio-path redundancy and capabilities to transmit other digital data, if required.”

The BLM has funded the mountaintop cameras to keep watch over sagebrush and forests in sensitive habitats from 10,000-foot-high Jacks Peak between Elko and Owyhee; 6500-foot-elevation Midas Peak, about 40 miles north of Battle Mountain; 7,500-foot Callaghan Peak north of Austin near the Iowa Canyon Reservoir, and Fairview Peak south of Highway 50 and about 30 miles southeast of Fallon near Sand Mountain.

The Elephant Incident Fire near Callaghan Peak at noon on July 15 provided another example of early situational awareness, as the camera provided a close view of early ignition and fire response.

“The cameras are strategically sited to provide a landscape overview,” Petersen said. “All cameras are equipped with on-demand time-lapse functions to allow playback throughout different time periods. This allows dispatchers and duty officers to play back the camera feed to detect anomalies and gather a local picture of what is happening, and has happened, within the field of view of the camera. This camera network gives fire managers a real time picture of what is happening from both a weather and fire behavior standpoint.”

The Seismological Lab uses Axis HD cameras, with 32x, pan-tilt-zoom capability, providing 360-degree panoramic views from high mountain towers. With the communications in place, these sites easily adapt to earthquake early warning detection systems that can provide public notification of expected potentially damaging ground shaking.

The expanded network also allows the University to expand the seismic detection system in Nevada, and improve earthquake monitoring in rural counties. This improves Nevada’s current earthquake information system and overall earthquake research in the state.

“This new network can also support rapid set up of incident command stations, within hours, at remote locations, bringing the full capabilities of the camera monitoring systems directly to field crews. This is critically important for immediate tactical fire response to fast-moving fires as well as firefighter safety in the front lines,” Kent said. “As a private network, it is not susceptible to increased public Internet traffic following high-impact catastrophic events – earthquakes, floods and fires.”

Live camera views, maps and information about the system are on the website:

The Nevada Seismological Laboratory is a public service department in the University’s College of Science.


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