Wildfire Detection in the 21st Century

Mike Archer examines how technology is changing the role of the 100-year-old fire lookout towers that were often the fire line of defense for fires in the wildland.

ForestWatch systems offer a nighttime benefit no lookout could provide. Their sleepless cameras scan the horizon day or night, and their near-infrared capability means that they are capable of localizing flame fronts not visible to the human eye through the smoke and haze. This allows ForestWatch operators to spot smoke plumes in hazy conditions before flames are even visible. And since fire dispatch centers typically operate 24/7, alerts from ForestWatch systems allow these dispatchers to quickly mobilize a response, with the added benefit that they can zoom in on an incident to determine precise size and location of a blaze, greatly aiding an incident commander’s size-up of the fire before resources are dispatched.


Unlike a lookout tower, an EVS camera can display images anywhere there is an available computer via the internet. This gives first responders unparalleled capabilities, allowing them to monitor an incident as they approach in case the situation changes. With the ability to pan/tilt/zoom any camera in the network, an incident commander can slew a camera over to a specific location, zoom in on something, and determine the best course of action to quickly knock down the fire.

Force Multiplier

The military uses the term “force multiplier” to signify how technology can increase the effectiveness of available assets. ForestWatch is a force multiplier, in that it allows incident commanders to allocate just enough of their limited firefighting resources to an incident, keeping enough in reserve for other emergencies. By having cameras strategically located, they can cut down on the unknowns associated with responding to an incident as well. In an era of budget cuts and firefighter layoffs, ForestWatch systems allow a fire agency to do more with fewer resources.

Arson Prosecution

Another feature of the EVS equipment is the ability to archive data from an incident for use in prosecution of arsonists. With date/time stamping on each frame of video from an EVS camera, law enforcement can provide incontrovertible evidence at trials of arson suspects, something no lookout tower could ever do!

And the same record-keeping capabilities can also be used to collect fire data for comparison with historical Fire Regime Condition Class information, a useful feature when trying to assess the effectiveness of a fire agency’s policies in an era of climate change.

Field-Tested: DFPA

Douglas Forest Protective Association (DFPA), headquartered in Roseburg, OR, has deployed dozens of wildfire camera systems across the state. Their dispatch center is state-of-the-art, with monitors able to quickly switch from one trouble spot to another and convey up-to-the-minute information to firefighters as they respond to an incident. What started out as a small operation for a limited area has now expanded to include many locations spanning a large swath of the state.

Melvin Thornton, the DFPA District Manager, had this to say about the system: “We have been very pleased with the ForestWatch system and EVS’s response to issues when they develop. They listen to our needs and then work to solve the issue or to improve efficiency.”

And EVS also customizes systems to the customer’s specifications. “An example where EVS took an idea and made it work was incorporating lightning strike data onto our maps so the operators would know where active lightning was occurring, helping to find fires earlier,” said Thornton. “The ForestWatch 3 software provides more than just detection capabilities, it provides fire managers an immediate view of the fire, location, and it’s potential to increase. Then we use that information to prioritize fires during periods of multiple fire events.”

For more information on ForestWatch, visit http://www.evsolutions.biz.

Summary of Envriovision Solutions Systems Features

Wildfire Camera

  • High-powered 35x optical zoom lens
  • 15-mile visual range (with zoom)
  • 18 preset views per 360-degree rotation
  • High stability in windy conditions Effective low-light level performance at night
  • The ability to switch to a near IR (Infrared) mode during the day to see further in hazy or smoky conditions
  • The ability to switch back from “night shot” to color at night with long exposure mode active

Geo-referencing Software

  • Geo-referencing is a key advantage due to the impact it has on making the algorithms “range aware”
  • Results in better detection
  • Lower false-alarm rates
  • Improved situational awareness when dispatching resources to known locations
  • Can overlay stored daytime images onto live night image for better context and interpretation of how the fire propagates at night

Methods of Notification

  • Pager
  • Cell Phone
  • Internet
  • Landline
  • Multiple recipients can be designated