EUGENE, Ore. (KTVZ) -- A critical project to help with the early detection and monitoring of wildfires in Oregon received $4.5 million in support from the state Legislature during the 2022 short session.
University of Oregon Earth Sciences Professor Douglas Toomey is a key leader of the partnership behind the ALERTWildfire camera network system, which is being rolled out across Oregon, Nevada, California, Washington, and Idaho. Toomey directs the Oregon Hazards Lab (OHAZ) at the University of Oregon.
The high intensity of the recent fire seasons in Oregon, coupled with the increasing wildfire risk this year, as approximately three-quarters of the state is now in severe drought conditions, has highlighted how critical the project is, both for firefighters and the general public.
The allocation from the Legislature will help install new state-of-the-art, Pan-Tilt-Zoom fire cameras and associated tools to help firefighters and first responders detect, contain and mitigate wildfires. The team is now working to identify appropriate mountaintop sites across the state for cameras to be installed.
The camera network is accessible to government agencies, firefighters, and the general public to enhance situational awareness and bolster public safety. Images are available 24/7 and the cameras provide various time-lapse playback options that can be used to identify the start and spread of wildfires and to aid evacuation efforts.
“When it comes to wildfires, people are not getting warnings in time now,” Toomey said. “Where the cameras are set up, we see that a fire detection culture develops. People will watch the cameras, even globally. The public facing aspect of the network allows citizens to better prepare themselves.”
Toomey said that, beyond the funding allocation, he’s excited to see the burgeoning relationship between the researchers behind AlertWildfire and agencies like the Oregon Department of Forestry, federal Bureau of Land Management and the National Forest Service.
“The collaborative relationships and mutual priorities that are being established between the different state and federal agencies are simply critical to establishing this system and making it successful,” he said.
The ALERTWildfire system uses Link Oregon, the developing statewide high-speed fiber broadband network created by Oregon's public and non-profit sectors. High-speed internet provides faster transmission of camera images, which can be critical during fast-moving wildfire events.
The Link Oregon communications backbone is also being used to support ShakeAlert, the earthquake early detection system which Toomey has played a pivotal role in as well.