Western wildfire camera network is now the largest of its kind

Firefighters battling wildfires in the Pacific Northwest will now have the world’s largest public-facing system of wildfire cameras at their disposal.

Three universities — including the University of Oregon’s Oregon Hazards Lab, known as OHAZ; the University of Nevada, Reno; and ALERTCalifornia at the University of California, San Diego — have integrated their wildfire monitoring networks under a single software platform, ALERTWest, allowing an unprecedented level of interoperability between monitoring systems and providing wildland firefighters with easier access to real-time data.

The camera at a fire monitoring tower
One of the cameras at an OHAZ monitoring tower

With secure login credentials, firefighters can now observe fire behavior and weather in real time from wildfire cameras throughout the western United States, said Nick Maggio, assistant director of wildfire technology for the UO hazards lab.

“A key part of what we’re trying to accomplish is to remove barriers for first responders and emergency managers,” Maggio said. “No matter where they are deployed, if they have an account with ALERTWest, they can access cameras within the system.”

The cameras, which typically are mounted on top of tall mountains or high-rise buildings to allow a 360-degree view of the surrounding landscape, can zoom, rotate and tilt, enabling fire managers to monitor conditions in real time or later through time-lapse footage. The operating software also uses artificial intelligence to detect new wildfire ignitions and deliver alerts to firefighters and dispatch centers.

"Wildfire cameras provide fire managers with better situational awareness so they can send appropriate responses, which could reduce the acres burned," said Jacob Gear, regional fire prevention coordinator for the U.S. Forest Service. "One benefit of the ALERTWest network is that the public is able to access the cameras and see what the fire is doing so communities and individuals can make more informed decisions."

A remote monitor site
One of the wildfire monitoring sites

The camera networks, which are owned and operated by the three universities, represent the type of public-private partnerships needed to address the large-scale effects of climate change, said Doug Toomey, a UO professor of earth sciences and director of the Oregon Hazards Lab. 

“We’re building a network for environmental monitoring and climate change adaptation by collaborating between universities, the private sector and the emergency responders who use the cameras,” Toomey said. “Universities have a fundamental part to play as the integrators and brokers of these trusted relationships.”

The UO hazards lab operates 45 wildfire cameras in Oregon (the monitoring system formerly known as ALERTWildfire) and has plans to deploy 30 more by 2025.

Any member of the public can view camera feeds at the ALERTWest website. Firefighters, emergency managers and other qualified personnel who wish to obtain camera control access in the Pacific Northwest can receive login credentials by emailing wildfirehelp@uoregon.edu.

By Laurel Hamers, University Communications and Nicole Krueger, College of Arts and Sciences