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Colorado Lawmakers Consider Putting High Tech Cameras Around State To Help Spot Wildfires

(CBS4) - Lawmakers in Colorado are considering putting high tech heat-sensing cameras around the state to help spot wildfires earlier. Under a bill, the Department of Natural Resources would implement a pilot program which includes at least 12 cameras that can be moved around the state and spot a wildfire from 100 miles away. They would be able to perform the function during high wind events and at night using GPS to pinpoint the location.

State Rep. Dylan Roberts and other supporters say the cameras could help prevent small fires from becoming destructive ones.

"If we can get to these fires before they exacerbate into large-scale catastrophes then we're going to prevent a lot of these massive wildfires from even starting," he said.

California has deployed 650 of the cameras, which cost approximately $40,000. They continually transmit live images and are equipped with near-infrared.

"It's an early alert system. It's like a smoke detector in your home," Roberts said. "If you can know that something bad's happening and you can resolve it before it gets out of hand, it just makes sense."

A company called Stealey II Inc. developed the cameras. Spokeswoman Becky Brooks told CBS4 they "tell you exactly what the coordinates are" when a wildfire breaks out and where the smoke is.

"And because of the winds, unless you're there and you're looking at a camera that can look at that, then it's hard to tell exactly where (the smoke) is coming from," she said.

With the cameras in place and functioning, firefighters as a result know not only where the direct their response, but how best to do so. And they don't have to wait for a first responder crew to arrive in the area before making those decisions.

"They give you ingress and egress routes so that your firefighters aren't meeting up with your people evacuating the area," Brooks said.

Roberts says the cameras certainly aren't the only solution when it comes to preventing fires, but they're "another tool in the toolbox that our firefighters need and our communities deserve to make sure that these wildfires don't get out of hand anymore."

The bill, which passed through its first committee hearing, would allocate about $2.5 million for the pilot program. In California, utilities and water districts have helped to cover the costs.

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