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Technology to Detect Start of Forest Fires

The recent wildfires in Southern California have prompted officials to use new technology to help firefighters battle blazes more efficiently.

Wildfires are nothing new in this part of California, but this year's has been brutal. It has charred nearly 8,000 hectares northwest of Los Angeles and damaged 13 buildings so far.

But new technology may help firefighters in fighting forest fires. The California Department of Forestry is the first in the U.S. to try a brand new system called Fire Hawk.

It consists of a digital camera mounted high above the trees to be on the lookout for columns of smoke. Firefighters can manually scan for kilometers with a joystick. When the software detects smoke, firefighters can click on a map that will tell them exactly where the fire is.

That role used to be played by rangers who sat in fire towers looking for smoke, but that system was expensive and not as effective.

Captain Dale McGill of the California Department of Forestry explains. "The earlier we detect them, the faster we can get equipment there and keep the fire small. CDF's goal is to keep fires to less than ten acres [4 hectares], to the best of their ability."

That is reassuring news for David Rambo, whose home is in Eldorado National Forest. "Oh God. I couldn't handle it. Come home and have my stupid home burn to the ground? I don't ever want to go through that. I think that was probably one of the best ideas they could come up with."

The camera has detected one fire so far. If the $75,000 system is successful, three more cameras could be added next year.