Lake Tahoe fire-spotting camera saw Washington blaze in first hour | SierraSun.com

Lake Tahoe fire-spotting camera saw Washington blaze in first hour

Staff report

UNR's AlertTAHOE fire-spotting camera network is tracking the Washington Fire south of Lake Tahoe with two of its mountaintop cameras. Technicians are seen here doing maintenance work at the Nevada Seismological Laboratory’s site at Homewood, on Tahoe's West Shore.

LAKE TAHOE, Calif. — The fire-spotting camera network at Lake Tahoe that was tracking the Washington Fire saw the first signs of smoke an hour before the blaze was reported.

The Nevada Seismological Laboratory's AlertTAHOE cameras spotted the first wisps of smoke coming from the site of the blaze at 3:50 p.m. June 19, an hour before it was reported, according to a news release from the University of Nevada, Reno.

But because no one saw it at the time, the fire grew to several thousands of acres in size.

"This really points to the importance of crowd-sourcing and artificial intelligence monitoring of the camera network," Graham Kent, director of the Nevada Seismological Laboratory, said in a statement.

Two years ago, Kent envisioned, and with his team of scientists, built and now maintains the expanding camera network.

The nascent camera network piggybacks on the university's seismic monitoring system that spans Nevada and eastern California.

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The fire agencies used the camera network to confirm the initial reports of the Washington Fire, and then were able to save time and resources by skipping a step to deploy resources more quickly, according to UNR.

"Right now we have a private network for fire agencies to use, and, due to heavy usage, we're tweaking the public interface to allow people to more easily view the broadcasts and look for and report smoke," he said.

The network features private high-speed Internet connectivity capable of transmitting seismic, environmental and climate data in addition to the live-streaming high-definition cameras.

Kent and his team's vision is to help firefighters respond as soon as possible to get a jump on the fire before it gets established and out of control — as happened last August near Lake Tahoe when the camera system helped spot a fire near Spooner Summit.

However, funding to maintain the system has become a challenge, according to previous reports.

In late 2014, the Nevada Seismological Laboratory launched a campaign to raise $2 million in donations to place additional cameras, the associated telemetry infrastructure and a user friendly web portal at 15 more locations.

"AlertTAHOE is a challenge to the greater Tahoe community — its residents, visitors, leaders and the business community — to invest in the expansion of this one-of-a-kind fire camera system," Kent said in a December 2014 story. "The fire-camera system is built upon an emergency information platform already in use for earthquake monitoring and response."

Currently, the program's HD infrared-capable cameras are at the four corners of Lake Tahoe and 7,500-foot McClellan Peak north of Carson City.

More cameras are planned from 8,269-foot Peavine Peak, a location near the Desert Research Institute in Reno, and south of Lake Tahoe from the Sierra-at-Tahoe ski resort, according to the university.