ODF Southwest District keeps its eyes on the mountaintops for wildfires, using cameras

MEDFORD, Ore. — While firefighters battle small fires on nearly all sides of the Rogue Valley, Oregon Department of Forestry’s eyes are on the skies tonight.

The detection center lead for ODF says high-quality cameras are placed on mountaintops where many people wouldn’t notice a fire burning.

This helps on days like today, when they’re on the lookout for thunder and lightning.

“We can see where the lightning strikes are happening and we can focus our attention a little bit heavier on those cameras that are viewing that particular area,” said detection center lead for ODF Southwest District, Chris James.

James works with 4 other full-time employees, monitoring screens that display multiple different rural mountaintops.

“We have a total of 13 sites right now with 26 cameras. All of those sites are taking photos and so what these folks are doing here in these seats are trying to find smoke,” James said.

The cameras are located in Josephine, Jackson, Klamath, Douglas and Coos counties.

“We watch the forecasts very carefully, but you know, they’re not 100% sometimes, a thunderstorm might slide off the forecast into our area. Anytime there’s a chance of thunder in our region we’re watching that,” James added.

He says the detection center has spotted 15 fires alone this year.

Last year it saw 27 and in 2018 it saw a whopping 61!

Public information officer Brian Ballou says the technology is a huge help.

“It gets people to the fire faster, where they can be more effective at putting it out sooner. It taught us quite a lot in that with expanding the system across many more mountaintops, how our coverage could be nearly complete for the entire district,” Ballou said.

James adds that the detection center can monitor up to 100 fires at time.

On-duty fire crews are also able to stream footage from the cameras on iPads if needed.

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