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Everyone remembers the Smokey the Bear public service announcement, “Only you can prevent forest fires.” In the 21st century, there’s more to preventing forest fires than just not smoking in dry areas. The West Coast annually experiences wildfires in the summer due to minimal precipitation (and in recent years, none at all). This creates fire hazards almost everywhere, and with no precipitation at all, water resources can be limited when fighting fires. Fires can start from something as small as a lit cigarette, to as significant as a lightning strike.


The Huffington Post reported that technology could be essential in preventing and fighting these wildfires. The AlertTAHOE and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Wildland Camera platforms have grown from one camera to a dozen (and growing) over the past year. Fire departments use these cameras, which are deployed in areas with a high or extreme risk of fires, to monitor these at-risk regions; the public can also access these images in real-time and via time-lapse. There are also plans to add machine vision and smoke recognition via artificial intelligence, which can put the brakes on wildfires, which are unpredictable and hard to contain once they spread over a large area.


AlertTAHOE’s system performance was put to the test last summer when the camera at Snow Valley Peak spotted a fire started by a lightning strike, prompting swift action and containing the fire to half an acre. By June of this year, the cameras also spotted another lightning strike fire, prompting early action as well. The Cold Creek fire, spotted on August 14 from Fairview Peak in western Nevada, was also contained quickly due to real-time views of fire evolution to command centers and the public. This quick action allowed fire crews to stay safe and those in populated areas to get to safety quickly.shutterstock_282060272

Politicians have also taken notice of tech’s ability to help fight fires. At the Lake Tahoe Summit, attended by political figures such as California governor Jerry Brown, Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Senator Dean Heller (R-NV), Representative Mark Amodei (R-NV), and Nevada lieutenant governor Mark Hutchinson, legislators discussed climate change as well as fire prevention. There was bipartisan support on how to combat fires and preserve the environment around the lake.


“If you decide that this is a lake that you want to save, as the only clear water lake in America, you can’t do it without money,” Feinstein said. The Senate is pushing for a $415 million bill called the Lake Tahoe Restoration Act of 2015. The old bill, also called the Lake Tahoe Restoration Act, expired in 2010. The bill could possibly expand the use of the ALERTTahoe cameras, which have been successful so far. “Anybody who’s been to Lake Tahoe, anybody who’s spent any time on these beaches, this sand, knows how important Lake Tahoe is, and the clarity of the lake,” said Heller. “By working together we can produce a healthier region.”


The partners in this program include the Tahoe Prosperity Center, US Forest Service, Homewood Mountain Ski Resort, Vail Heavenly Mountain Resort, Diamond Peak Ski Resort, Sierra at Tahoe Ski Resort, UC Davis Tahoe Environmental Research Center, CalFire, and the Nevada Advanced Autonomous Systems Innovation Center (NAASIC) at the University of Nevada, Reno. Private individuals have also donated to the cause. Tech’s role in fire fighting—especially in lengthening dry seasons—is on the rise, and should help prevent property destruction and save lives.

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