SACRAMENTO (CBS13) – There now is a network of cameras in high fire risk areas up and down the state helping guide firefighting efforts.

It started with just three cameras in Tahoe and grew exponentially. Now, the fairly new technology is already proving to be a critical tool when it comes to pinpointing the location of a fire.

“It’s really about getting that first initial attack, get that intel nailed down‬,” said Dr. Graham Kent, Director of the Nevada Seismological Laboratory.

More than 300 state-of-the-art, high definition, near-infrared cameras are watching for wildfires from Lake Tahoe to Grass Valley, Calaveras County and down to Southern California.

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“Once a fire has been called in, within 30 seconds that person in dispatch is gonna know what is going on and how to dispatch material, personnel, airstrikes,” said Kent.

Within seconds of a 911 call, dispatchers and fire personnel can log onto the Alertwildfire.org website and get a look at where the fire is burning to better determine the type of response needed, and to help rule out false alarms.

“It’s a tool in our toolbox that we use,” said Cal Fire Deputy Chief Scott McLean. “We can track the smoke color: grey or white smoke is a wildland fire, black or dark brown smoke signifies to us it can be a structure fire.”

Using a timelapse feature, crews can also monitor how the fire is moving.

“If it’s passed a ridgeline, we can verify that there is a fire and watch it as it builds, and determine what resources we need,” said Chief McLean.

‪”You get an on-demand timelapse, and you can look at fire behavior and you get a sense of what’s happening really quickly,” said Kent.

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A coalition of universities, public safety agencies and utility companies – including PG&E – helped build this network of cameras in fire-prone areas. In fact, PG&E also uses the technology.

“They have to make decisions. When you have firefighters out there, you don’t want to have active lines, so they need that intel as well,” said Dr. Kent.

It’s a new high tech tool fire crews and even ordinary citizens can use to keep an eye on wildfire threats from afar.

“Over time its gonna allow people to use the cameras to be the 21st-century fire lookout tower,” said Dr. Kent.

Right now, there are more than 300 cameras installed. Dr. Kent says they hope to have 300 more by the end of the year – and in 2 years, the goal is 1,000.

The cameras are in California, Nevada, Idaho and Washington.

Shirin Rajaee

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