Cameras scan for fires around Tahoe

Griffin Rogers
This image was taken from a fire monitoring camera in North Lake Tahoe.
Provided courtesy of UNR |

A high-definition camera used to scan Lake Tahoe’s mountains and shoreline for fires was installed at Heavenly last week, as part of a larger project to track and monitor a variety of hazards in the Sierra.

The 360-degree camera will be the third installed in the Tahoe Basin. Two are already set up in the Northstar and Sand Harbor areas — one of which captured progress of the Bison Fire in real time last year.

Firefighters have already been using the cameras to monitor the region’s backcountry, via a supporting high-speed network. And with a bird’s-eye view of the surrounding area, they can now respond to emergencies faster than ever, researchers said.

“This is a game-changer,” said Graham Kent, director of the University of Nevada, Reno’s Nevada Seismological Laboratory, which is spearheading the project.

The cameras join a system of mountaintop observatories at Lake Tahoe that transmit seismic, environmental and climate data through remote sensing equipment.

They are capable of zooming in and shooting video in infrared so viewers can see the moment a fire is ignited. Because of this, Kent said the technology will help shave off valuable minutes, if not hours, when crews respond to forest fires.

Further, the cameras will be even more beneficial when they are available to the public, he added. People will soon be able to view live footage from the cameras whenever they want.

“They can essentially help be a forest watcher or forest guard,” Kent said of his lab’s plan for the technology.

Researchers have installed about eight or nine similar cameras around Nevada to bolster the emergency detection system, and the Seismological Lab has funds to set up another eight or nine more in the next six months.

Another camera will go up in the basin in a couple weeks, though the exact location is yet to be determined.

Kent said the project is still in its early stages and researchers are still working on improving the system. However, the lab hopes to continue making strides in the undertaking in the months to come.

“It’s a research project,” he said. “No one’s ever done this before.”

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