Wildfire monitoring efforts in California now include hundreds of wildland monitoring cameras positioned throughout much of the state’s high fire risk areas. Currently, there are over 620 ALERTWildfire cameras in California, with an estimated 1,000 to be online by 2023. In the North Coast region- which contains Mendocino, Humboldt, and Del Norte counties- there are 31 cameras, 16 of which are mounted within Mendocino County.
These cameras utilize state-of-the-art pan-tilt-zoom (PTZ) technology which enables them to perform 360-degree sweeps every two minutes. The cameras can view up to 60 miles on a clear day, and up to 120 miles at night due to near-infrared night vision technology. These publically accessible wildfire cameras allow emergency personnel and concerned citizens to monitor their region for signs of fire. The cameras can zoom in on smoke sightings, allowing emergency personnel to accurately gauge the location, size, and direction of travel of wildfires, which provides a crucial head-start on fire suppression and evacuation efforts.
During the last five fire seasons (2016 – 2020) ALERTWildfire provided critical information for over 1,500 fires, increasing the effectiveness and timeliness of emergency response efforts. While the most recent 2020 fire season was historic in the acreage burned, it had a lower loss of life than previous fire seasons. This is in part due to coordinated, timely evacuation efforts made possible by the ALERTWildfire network.
History of ALERTWildfire
ALERTWildfire is a partnership of three universities – University of California, San Diego; University of Nevada, Reno; and the University of Oregon – who are collaborating with local governmental agencies and utility companies to provide public access to state-of-the-art video monitoring for wildfires throughout the western US.
The ALERTWildfire network is an expansion of the ALERTTahoe monitoring program, which was first piloted in the Lake Tahoe area in 2013. The network has since expanded to include much of California and the neighboring states of Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Nevada, and Utah. CalFire, Pacific Gas and Electric, Sonoma Water, Southern California Edison, San Diego Gas and Electric, NV Energy, and several county governments have teamed up with ALERTWildfire to expand the fire monitoring network across California.
Tips for using ALERTWildfire.org
Anyone with internet access can use the ALERTWildfire website (http://www.alertwildfire.org/index.html) to view hundreds of live camera feeds to monitor and report wildfires. Upon visiting the website, users must select a region by clicking on the map and then clicking on the name of the region in the pop-up box. After selecting a region, there will be a map displaying all of the camera locations within that region, and their current area of direction. Below the map are thumbnail views of all of the cameras in that region. These small thumbnail views allow users to view multiple camera feeds at once. Any camera can be enlarged into the main view by clicking on the thumbnail. Time lapse reviews for the most recent 12 hours are also available in the main view window by clicking the “play” button in the upper left hand corner.
According to the ALERTWildfire website, if a fire is in the center of the screen and zoomed in to, then it likely has already been reported and emergency services are responding. However, if smoke is in the distance and not centered on the screen, then there is a chance that is a new fire start. Users should immediately call 911 to report any potential new fires. Only emergency personnel can adjust the viewing angle and zoom of the cameras. Citizen viewers can monitor the camera feeds, but cannot adjust the camera angle or zoom.
Mendocino County residents can use the ALERTWildfire website to monitor the path of wildfires in their area, allowing them to make informed decisions regarding the threat to their properties and evacuation routes.
See ALERTWildfire.org FAQs (http://www.alertwildfire.org/faq.html) for more information on how to use the online monitoring and reporting system.
ALERTWildfire cameras locations
As of February 2021 there were 16 cameras mounted within Mendocino County, with dozens of cameras in the surrounding counties. Mendocino County camera locations and live feeds can be viewed by visiting the ALERTWildfire.org website and selecting the “North Coast” region.
Cameras are placed in high fire risk areas at locations that have clear views of the surrounding area. Those interested in installing additional ALERTWildfire cameras in their area, can contact Dr. Graham M. Kent of the University of Nevada, Reno at firstname.lastname@example.org or 775-527-1574.
ALERTWildfire camera network funding
ALERTWildfire partners with local governmental agencies and utility providers to fund the installation, maintenance, and operating expenses for the camera networks. In the North Coast region, PG&E sponsors 21 of the 31 camera sites, and CalFire sponsors the remaining ten sites. All of the 16 camera sites within Mendocino County are sponsored and funded by PG&E.
Initial installation costs for new camera sites vary considerably with the accessibility of the location and whether existing infrastructure (i.e., an existing tower) can be used to mount the cameras. Locations with existing infrastructure can be retro-fitted for approximately $10,000. In areas where there is no existing infrastructure to connect to, the installation costs can be $50,000, or more.
How can you help?
CalFire and local firefighting agencies can use your help in monitoring the ALERTWildfire camera network for new fire starts. Early spotting and reporting of fires can give emergency personnel a jump-start on suppressing the fire and keeping our communities safe. Citizen volunteers are crucial to the success of the ALERTWildfire network and CalFire urges those who are able, to become volunteer fire spotters. Several communities in California have formed volunteer fire watch groups- such as Orange County Fire Watch which has over 100 members- that take turns monitoring local cameras during high fire risk periods. If you have the time, and a reliable internet connection, please consider becoming an ALERTWildfire volunteer fire spotter to help keep our community safe.
ALERTWildfire – About Us:
Nevada Today – ALERTWildfire:
Orange County Register Article- 620 cameras ready to help residents and firefighters spot California wildfires:
PG&E – Community Wildfire Safety Program: