Southern California has doubled the number of high-tech cameras in fire-prone areas across the region in order to better help firefighters detect and respond to wildfires.
The ALERTWidlfire Camera Network is made up of more than 160 cameras, 70 in Southern California alone, developed by scientists at UC San Diego Scripps Institution of Oceanography and the University of Nevada Reno.
The cameras -- first installed in San Diego's backcountry a decade ago -- are used throughout California, Nevada, Oregon, Washington and Idaho to give firefighters a high-definition look at real-time fire conditions.
While 15 cameras had already been installed in San Diego County, Southern California Edison has backed the ALERTWildfire network to expand the total number of cameras across the region. The utility plans to up the number of cameras in Southern California to 160 by 2020.
"2018 was devastating here in California; we had the most loss of life with fires, most acres burned and most infrastructure destroyed. We can’t allow this to happen again," said Scripps Institution of Oceanography researcher Neal Driscoll. "We are at a time of climatic extremes and we need to use all the technologies that are in our arsenal to mitigate disasters."
San Diego's cameras were first installed in 2010 and again in 2012 before the San Diego County Board of Supervisors approved additional funding in 2018 for more wildfire cameras. They sit atop Mt. Woodson, Boucher Hill, Otay Mountain, Red Mountain and Lyons Peak, to name a few.
Many of the cameras use infrared vision to detect smoke at night and have a live video feature, according to UC San Diego. Firefighters are able to control the cameras' movements to detect wildfires at their earliest stages.
"In these fires, we've learned that the first few hours are critical in suppressing the fire," Driscoll said. "These cameras allow remote access to the backcountry, the rural-urban interface, so that we can fight these fires more efficiently and scale our response accordingly."
The cameras can also track hazardous weather conditions and earthquakes, which was their original intended purpose.
Driscoll and his partner Graham Kent were seismologists that had developed a large data-communication center to track earthquakes when they realized by putting a camera on top, it could also be placed on mountainsides to track wildfires.
Anyone can look at the cameras around the clock at the ALERTWildfire website.