High-Tech Cameras Help Monitor Potential Wildfires in Real Time

SCE has now installed 70 of these cameras in high fire risk areas that can be monitored around the clock.
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Stories : Safety

High-Tech Cameras Help Monitor Potential Wildfires in Real Time

SCE has now installed 70 of these cameras in high fire risk areas that can be monitored around the clock.
Photo Credit: Elisa Ferrari

B-Roll            Video Transcript

As reports of the Holy Fire spread across local news and social media channels, Jieranai Maier was closely monitoring the fast-moving wildfire in Trabuco Canyon on live, streaming cameras. She was concerned about friends living near the area in Lake Elsinore.

As a former Silicon Valley high-tech worker, she came across the University of California, San Diego’s wildfire camera network when she owned 21 avocado groves near Temecula to monitor the area for smoke and fires. 

“The cameras play a critical role in my life,” said Maier, a Southern California Edison customer who also enjoys watching weather and wildlife web cameras. “They allowed me to watch the fire closely, to make sure my friends’ homes were safe. I have always been keen on the new advanced technology.”

SCE has so far installed 70 wildfire monitoring cameras within its high fire risk areas.
SCE has so far installed 70 wildfire monitoring cameras within its high fire risk areas.

Brian Norton, division chief with the Orange County Fire Authority, used the cameras in August to monitor the Holy Fire that eventually burned 23,000 acres. He had helped oversee the installation of the cameras last year and worked with SCE to conduct a test pilot program on Santiago Peak just three months before the Holy Fire started.

“These cameras showed us the likely time the Holy Fire originated. We used the cameras to follow the fire spread,” Norton said. “During a flare-up that occurred near Santiago Peak, the initial report was validated by turning the cameras to view the entire mountaintop.”

Since the Holy Fire, 70 high-tech cameras have been installed to monitor up to half of the state-designated high fire risk areas served by SCE. These cameras will stream images on UC San Diego’s wildfire camera network. SCE partners with UC San Diego and the University of Nevada, Reno to deploy all of the cameras in high fire risk areas. 

A plane drops fire retardant on the Holy Fire near Santiago Peak captured by a HD SCE camera connected to UCSD's wildfire camera network.
A plane drops fire retardant on the Holy Fire near Santiago Peak captured by a HD SCE camera connected to UC San Diego's wildfire camera network.

The cameras are able to pan, tilt, zoom and perform 360-degree sweeps approximately every minute with 12 high-definition frames per sweep. SCE’s Fire Management organization and public agencies can access the cameras around the clock to monitor wildfire activity. Some of the camera locations include: LA County near Malibu, Ventura County near Thousand Oaks, Riverside County near Corona and San Bernardino County near Lake Arrowhead.

Don Daigler, SCE’s director of Business Resiliency, helps oversee operations during major incidents, such as wildfires, severe storms and earthquakes. He says SCE will eventually have up to 160 cameras installed by the end of 2020 that will allow approximately 90 percent coverage in high fire risk areas.

“Before the cameras, we relied on reports from fire agencies and the media, as well as on-scene observations by our crews to address wildfire activity in our service area,” Daigler said. “The fire-monitoring cameras provide real-time images that we can rely on to protect our customers, communities and equipment from the ongoing threat of wildfires.”

A worker looks up at a wildfire monitoring camera to ensure it was mounted properly.
A worker looks up at a wildfire monitoring camera to ensure it was mounted properly.

The innovative technology will enhance the company’s situational awareness capabilities and give fire agencies the ability to respond to wildfire activity more quickly. They can be monitored 24 hours a day and are part of the company’s wildfire mitigation efforts. SCE filed its 2019 Wildfire Mitigation Plan with the California Public Utilities Commission earlier this month.

As for Maier, she says she will continue to monitor the technology and has even blogged about the cameras. She encourages others to do the same, especially if they live in a high fire risk area.

“I’m happy that more cameras have been installed, so people can watch for wildfires near their own communities,” she said