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Cameras could speed up response to Northern California fires

July 6, 2018

SONOMA, Calif. (AP) — A Northern California county that was ravaged by wildfire last year may soon have a network of surveillance cameras aimed at helping officials quickly gauge the severity of a fire and where it’s spreading, a newspaper reported.

The Sonoma County Water Agency has proposed installing eight high-definition cameras on communication towers and other existing structures, the Press Democrat of Santa Rosa reported.

County supervisors are expected to consider the plan at their Aug. 7 meeting. It could cost as much as $475,000.

If supervisors approve, the cameras may be in place by Oct. 1 — ahead of the one-year anniversary of last year’s devastating fires. Sonoma County was the hardest hit by a series of wildfires in Napa, Sonoma, and Solano counties last year that killed 44 people, destroyed 8,800 structures and forced more than 100,000 people to evacuate. It was the largest group of wildfires in California’s recorded history.

“It provides a level of situational awareness that is absolutely needed going forward to address the new normal, which are these extreme weather events that drive fires to a different degree,” Sonoma County Board of Supervisors chairman James Gore said.

Roughly 60 fire cameras are already in place across Southern California and Lake Tahoe, according to the Press Democrat.

The devices, which were developed at the University of Nevada, Reno, have a range of 100 miles or more at night, said Graham Kent, director of the Nevada Seismological Laboratory at the University of Nevada, Reno.

The camera proposal for Sonoma County would cover more than a third of the 130-square-mile Lake Sonoma watershed. Officials worry a big blaze in the area could damage the watershed — a source of drinking water for more than half a million people across three counties.

Jay Jasperse, chief engineer for the Sonoma County Water Agency, said additional cameras are possible. “The bigger your network, the better overall, the more robust it is for everybody,” Jasperse said.

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Information from: The Santa Rosa Press Democrat, http://www.pressdemocrat.com

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