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Legislative funding will help expand wildfire detection system

This view from a wildfire detection camera near Cave Junction, OR, was captured on March 28 at 4:36 p.m.
This view from a wildfire detection camera near Cave Junction, OR, was captured on March 28 at 4:36 p.m.

A network of wildfire detection cameras is set to expand in Oregon after state lawmakers approved a boost in funding for the project.

The cameras are perched on remote mountaintops and on the edge of wildfire prone urban areas. There are hundreds of them in California, but only a couple of dozen so far in Oregon. Lawmakers approved $4.5 million to add more cameras to the system.

The cameras can be viewed by both fire managers and the general public, said Doug Toomey, director of the Oregon Hazards Lab at the University of Oregon, which helps run the network.

“One of the nice aspects about the public-facing component of this is it helps to develop a fire culture in a region," said Toomey. "It’s quite remarkable the number of people who watch cameras and call in fires.”

Toomey says artificial intelligence can also detect fires through the cameras, including at night.

Beyond potentially saving lives, Toomey said there's another benefit to the cameras: Simply put, some of them offer a nice view.

"I think many of us who know about the cameras go to them, and you can see amazing things," he said. "With the time lapse feature, if you play it back, you can watch the sun come up over the Sisters, or the stars at night, or a beautiful sunset."

And he hopes the cameras will also create awareness of the need to keep its resources safe.

"It gives everyone an opportunity to have an appreciation of how beautiful the Pacific Northwest is," he said. "And I think out of that grows a sense of stewardship, that we want to try to protect our lands and our communities."

Chris Lehman has been reporting on Oregon issues since 2006. He joined the KLCC news department in December 2018 and became News Director in March 2023. Chris was born and raised in Pennsylvania, and graduated from Temple University with a degree in journalism. His public broadcasting career includes stops in Louisiana and Illinois. Chris has filed for national programs including “Morning Edition” and “All Things Considered.”