North Bay firefighters have new network of cameras to discover, find wildfires

Saturday, December 29, 2018
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In the North Bay, firefighters have a new set of tools to discover and locate wildfires sooner and better than ever.

MARIN COUNTY, Calif. (KGO) -- In the North Bay, firefighters have a new set of tools to discover and locate wildfires sooner and better than ever -- a new network of cameras.

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Sometimes the destination does eclipse a journey. Marin County's Mount Tamalpais would be one of those places. From Gardner Fire Lookout, 2,571 feet up, San Francisco seemed almost touchable and Mt. Diablo, shoutable.

Though Marin County Fire Captain Keith Wallace didn't bring us to the Gardiner lookout just to show off the view.

"It's a rare day," said Wallace.

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Instead, he took us there to show off the newest tools taking advantage of it. High definition cameras - two of six, soon to be eight - mounted in Marin and linked to a North Bay network.

"They all see each each other," said Wallace.

It's the difference technology can make. It used to be that to spot a fire, the department would need a man or woman inside the lookout. Now, the department can spot and locate fires from anywhere.

Marin Deputy Fire Chief Mark Brown watched every move we made on Friday from his kitchen in Sonoma County.

"You followed us?" we asked.

His answer, "Absolutely."

A freeze-frame of our crew at the lookout demonstrates how well the system works. For the first time, fire commanders can move and pan the cameras from anywhere. They no longer need to be in a command center.

That made a big difference when an apartment caught fire in San Rafael on Wednesday.

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Brown had electronic eyes on it and relayed information before crews arrived. He did so from that same kitchen table in Sonoma County while he was on vacation.

"It gives us context," said Brown. "Allows us to shorten our reaction time to the incident."

PG&E paid for the cameras, which will soon cover more than 1,000 square miles as far north as Lake County.

It's not quite the same as hiking to the top of Mount Tam on a clear day like this, but in terms of spotting wildfires, the next best thing.

Take a look at the latest stories and videos about wildfires.