You too can spot wildfires from the comfort of home

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The Bureau of Land Management has new eyes to spot wildfires quickly so they can be attacked before they grow into huge acreage gobbling infernos.

Those eyes could be yours.

The BLM has handed the University of Nevada, Reno’s Seismological Laboratory a $250,000 grant to pay for remote cameras atop four central Nevada peaks for five years at some of UNR’s seismic detectors.

The public can see what those cameras see on the Internet at http://alerttahoe.seismo.unr.edu:8080/

“These cameras provide fire management personnel in detection and situational awareness,” BLM fire official Paul Petersen was quoted as saying on the UNR website. “For instance, they can be positioned during lightning storms to detect potential ignitions. These are our first steps in building a cutting-edge camera network to protect and conserve forest and sagebrush ecosystems and reduce invasive species that spread after wildland fires.”

Ken Smith, associate director of the Seismological Laboratory, said, “The beauty of this system is that not only can fire service personnel look for indications of fire, but the public interface can be used by anyone, at any time, to look for fires in a crowd-sourcing fashion.”

Wildfire is one of the biggest threats to sage grouse, which could be listed under the Endangered Species Act as early as this fall by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

The cameras are located on 10,000-foot Jacks Peak between Elko and Owyhee; atop 6500-foot Midas Peak, 40 miles north of Battle Mountain; on 7,500-foot Callaghan Peak north of Austin; and Fairview Peak south of Highway 50 and about 30 miles southeast of Fallon. The cameras are mounted on towers up to 40 feet tall and can be remotely operated, zoom and rotate through a 360-degree sweep of the terrain.

The camera on Midas Peak has already proven its worth. Monitors using the camera spotted a fire 100 miles away in Oregon and another fire between Winnemucca and Elko.

UNR already has seven cameras arrayed around Lake Tahoe. Those can be viewed at http://alerttahoe.seismo.unr.edu/firecams.html

Graham Kent, director of the Seismological Laboratory, said those cameras worked well during a recent series of lightning strikes around the lake.

UNR officials said about 500 citizens are looking at the public site at various times, along with the 12 BLM dispatchers.

In addition to fire spotting, the new locations will allow UNR to expand its seismic detection system and improve earthquake monitoring in rural counties.

This kind of technology could have a real return on investment for our tax dollars. — TM

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