British Columbia

Whistler installing heat- and smoke-sensitive cameras as wildfire season looms

The cameras can detect traces of a blaze 15 kilometres away.

Cameras can detect traces of a blaze 15 km away

Firefighters responding to a wildfire at the base of Blackcomb Mountain last July. Whistler was under 'extreme' forest fire risk for 63 days last summer. (Grant Brumpton/Twitter)

Whistler is preparing for wildfire season by installing cameras that can detect flames early on.

The cameras use sensors to detect smoke and heat and can pick up on a fire from 15 kilometres away.

"[They] are fairly sensitive and of course are designed to be a little extra sensitive in terms of erring on the side of caution," said Fire Chief Geoff Playfair of Whistler Fire Rescue Service.

"They have to be monitored."

The two cameras, set to be installed this month, will send an alert to a computer system at the fire hall where the data can be analyzed and a response planned.

A wildfire burns near Pemberton, B.C., in July 2015. (B.C. Wildfire Service/Reuters )

Between the 24-hour firefighting staff in the village and on-call staff, there's a team of around 85 who can respond to blazes, said Playfair.​

"As long as it's a road-based response or a forestry road-based response, we can respond basically immediately,"  Playfair told Laura Lynch, guest host of CBC's The Early Edition.

The sections that are inaccessible, high up in mountains with no road access, are tackled by B.C. Wildfire Service helicopters.

Summer risk

Last year, Whistler spent much of the summer facing the threat of wildfires. For 63 days, the town was under an "extreme" forest fire risk and spent 26 days with a "high" fire risk.

"The month of June really is a telltale for us," he said. "If we don't get the rains in June then look out, it will be a summer much like last summer."

Playfair says early detection can make all the difference.

The cameras come from a German company called FireWatch and a similar early detection system is used throughout Europe, New Zealand and Australia.

"The results seem to be that they can cut down the losses from a wildfire and the growth of a wildfire down in the 50 per cent range," Playfair said.

With files from The Early Edition.

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