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Butte Co. Cal Fire uses fire-detection cameras to fight wildfires

Butte County's Cal Fire Incident Command Center has been using six cameras to scour the county for a spark that could start a massive wildfire.

Human eyes used to scan the vast foothills of Butte County, diligently searching for the first sign of a wildfire.

Now, that job has been replaced with cameras. Currently six of them on four different mountain sites cover acres-and-acres of land on a 360-degree axis.

The cameras work by taking a series of four images every few minutes, all of which are sent to the emergency command center in Oroville.

"So you can get dust rising above a tree, or movement above a tree, or anything that would cause an alarm," explained Cal Fire Division Chief David Hawks.

That is when high-tech gives way to human intelligence. Crews then study the images to see if it's something serious, or just dust in the wind.

"We'll take a look at the cameras, view the smoke, determine the volume and color of smoke and a number of things that go into our decision on the type of response that we need," said Hawks.

The technology can also identify the closest road to the possible smoke seen on the screen. Meaning that if a fire does break out, a lot of the guess work is taken out of the equation and firefighters can respond even quicker.

The cameras were installed three years ago and positive results were immediate. On four occasions the Forest Watch System alerted dispatchers of a fire that was located and quickly contained.

"It allowed us to determine a fire was there and get resources there in a timely manner.," recalls Division Chief Hawks.

The cost of an individual camera is relatively small, about $2,000 per unit. The system and all of its components came in at more than $250,000, which was initially funded by PG&E.

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