Opinion: Lake Tahoe’s fire camera network crucial to our future | SierraSun.com

Opinion: Lake Tahoe’s fire camera network crucial to our future

Heidi Hill Drum
Opinion

Friday, June 24, marked the ninth anniversary of the start of the devastating Angora Fire.

I was visiting family back east when a neighbor who was dog-sitting asked what we needed to evacuate from our house besides our dog. We told her to grab some photo albums if she had time, but that the priority was her safety — not our stuff.

We were fortunate that we did not lose our home that day when so many other friends did. It was heartbreaking to come home to Tahoe and see the destruction to our community while we were gone.

In moments like the phone call we received, what goes through your head? What are your priorities? Besides the safety of your family (human and animals), what do you think to grab in the few minutes you might have before evacuation? Pictures, mementos, computer, bike, skis?

Unfortunately, many are going through those decisions right now. Evacuations happened just this past week in Santa Barbara, Los Angeles, San Diego and other western states. Fire danger is extremely high after all these drought years — add in some high winds and you have the elements of a potential disaster.

What are our options in moments like these? Protect our communities in whatever way we can. Tahoe Prosperity Center is partnering with the University of Nevada, Reno's seismological laboratory to add fire-prevention cameras around our region.

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This network of cameras and equipment is called AlertTahoe. If you are wondering why Tahoe Prosperity Center is involved, it is simple — AlertTahoe cameras can protect our community from another wildfire.

The Angora Fire devastated our community. Families were displaced, homes were destroyed and the environment and forest was forever changed. Our community, economy and environment all suffered.

What if we could have spotted the smoke earlier? What if a fire chief monitoring the AlertTahoe camera network had noticed the flames the night before when the illegal campfire was lit?

We can't go back in time and know if it would have helped, but these strategically located cameras around the Tahoe Basin (including a new one recently installed at Sierra-at-Tahoe Resort) can spot flames at night and smoke during the day.

The existing eight cameras in place around our region have already spotted 12 small fires and alerted the fire agencies before they became big fires.

AlertTahoe is easy insurance for our communities. The Angora fire cost $11.7 million to fight, not including what our local residents lost in their homes and businesses or the cost to repair the environmental damage.

Each AlertTahoe camera costs about $30,000 including the camera, tower, equipment, installation and connections to the network. Investing in these cameras now can prevent another devastating fire.

Please donate to the AlertTahoe campaign to keep these cameras maintained throughout the year. Especially at this time of year — be fire safe, be fire aware and know what you'll grab if you only have a few precious moments.

Find out more and see the cameras at tahoeprosperity.org/alerttahoe or alerttahoe.seismo.unr.edu/firecams.html.

Heidi Hill Drum is the executive director of the Tahoe Prosperity Center, a Tahoe Basin-wide organization dedicated to uniting Tahoe's communities to strengthen regional prosperity. Visit tahoeprosperity.org to learn more.