A recent climate change report finds wildfires will only grow more destructive and longer lasting. In fact wildfires could burn up to six times more forest area annually by 2050 in parts of the U.S. Even before this climate report, UNR's Graham Kent has been working on expanding the footprint of his Alert Wildfire System to tackle this rapidly growing problem.
While there’s been much focus on reducing fuels, prescriptive burns and forest management, another critical management tool going forward will be catching and containing fires as early as possible.
Kent is the Director of UNR’s Nevada Seismological Laboratory and the chief architect of the Alert Wildfire System. These fire cameras are designed to help firefighters spot and evaluate wildfires as quickly as possible, and then prioritize their response. The cameras have near infrared vision to also visualize fires at night. Five western states already have some cameras— California, Nevada, Oregon, Idaho and Washington— but demand for more fire cameras is outpacing the speed with which Kent can get permits to place the cameras.
As fires increasingly burn faster and hotter, destroying even more homes in their path, Kent says it's critical to prepare our communities for emergency evacuations.
"One thing that nobody thought of as we jammed people into the wildland interface— although that really doesn’t exist anymore— but as we built our communities, nobody ever said, ‘wow, geez, what if everybody has to leave at once?’"
Kent says for many communities, there aren't enough exit routes or the roads simply can't handle a full scale evacuation.
"The thing that concerns me the most after the last two years of firestorms, other than to not have them next year, is: we leave the old people behind," Kent says.
"You look at the death tolls, and the people that died in the wine country fires, the Paradise fire, they are by and large, all elderly, no way out, nobody knows they’re there, and they get left behind to burn up," Kent says.
"And so as a community, we have to address that."
Kent says the cameras can be used to help decide evacuation routes as they allow emergency responders to see where the fire is moving and what roads are still open. Kent says he is currently working on installing an additional two cameras in Elko.