Federal lawmakers receive demonstration on wildfire camera system

Doug Toomey demonstrates the ALERTWildfire camera system

Hours after her phone lit up with a wildfire evacuation notice, Congresswoman Val Hoyle, along with Sen. Ron Wyden, visited the Visualization Lab at the University of Oregon to see how the Oregon Hazards Lab helps state agencies fight wildfires.

On Monday, August 14, Doug Toomey, director of the OHAZ lab and an earth sciences professor in the College of Arts and Sciences, demonstrated how the ALERTWildfire high-speed camera system allows state agencies to prioritize resources to address wildfires, by showing live camera feeds of wildfires about an hour away from the University of Oregon campus.

“This is what we should be doing. We’re fired up about this,” Wyden said. The camera system shows how innovative Oregonians are, he added.

The OHAZ lab, established in 2018, leads a team of regional stakeholders to deploy resilient communications and to support emergency communications. ALERTWildfire, a part of OHAZ, is a consortium of the University of Nevada, Reno, and the UO.

The system has hundreds of cameras throughout the West Coast with plans for more cameras throughout Oregon. The cameras have near-infrared capabilities and up to 32x zoom. With a range of up to 40 miles in the daytime and 60 to 80 miles at night, the camera’s AI technology can detect fires in an early state, as well as predict fire behavior.

And the camera system is making a difference in fighting wildfires. State officials were able to quickly notice the Boulder Fire near Mount Hood as it started a few months ago in July. State agencies were able to respond quickly with air support to combat its spread.

“We’re not fighting out grandfathers’ wildfires,” Hoyle said. With technology like Alert Wildfire, she’s heard that people’s lives are being saved on the ground by providing more information to firefighting agencies. “This tool has paid dividends in prioritization.”