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Wildfire Detection Goes High Tech in Washington State

The wildfire detection cameras, a first in Washington, have built-in artificial intelligence that can detect a smoke plume 500 feet tall and thermal imagery. If detected, a California-based central command center will alert local fire crews.

A small forest fire in the mountains.
(TNS) — A call comes into Lake Wenatchee Fire and Rescue about smoke rising in the forest. To investigate, a crew would typically trek out to the area, and look for a vantage point to determine whether the smoke is rising from a fire that actively needs attention.

"Now, we can monitor that remotely," said Chief David Walker.

Last week, the department installed two wildfire detection cameras near Nason Creek and Lake Wenatchee, the result of a partnership with UC San Diego,, AlertWest and Localtel Communications.

The cameras, a first in Washington, have artificial intelligence that can detect a smoke plume 500 feet tall and thermal imagery "that's unusual." If detected, a central command center for the California-based company alerts Lake Wenatchee Fire.

"For the area that we live in, early detection is key," Walker said.

Walker said the cameras are funded through a grant with AlertWest. Lake Wenatchee Fire spent about $6,000 on installing the camera on already installed infrastructure and will spend about $1,200 a year in upkeep.

According to AlertWest, the company has more than 1,000 cameras and 2,500 users. Lake Wenatchee Fire has considered installing the cameras for more than five years. Walker said during that time, the AI capabilities have improved.

Walker said the department received multiple calls about smoke in the area last week, which were later determined to be from atmospheric smoke from a nearby fire and not an active fire in the region.

"We just took the camera and panned around the valley," he said.

The feeds from the two cameras can be seen at

©2023 The Wenatchee World, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.