SAN RAFAEL (CBS SF) — High tech cameras and sensors are helping firefighters in the North Bay swing into action when wildfires strike.

Marin County Fire Dispatch got a major upgrade with an advanced camera system to help the agency spot wildfires faster.

“Using cameras is not groundbreaking, but the computer algorithms and how the cameras are used to detect fires is state of the art,” Marin County Deputy Fire Chief Mark Brown said.

Seven special cameras now scan the landscape from five former fire lookout towers.  But, the cameras don’t record video.  Four pictures taken every twenty seconds are compared by the computer to look for changes.

“By having the four images, it can detect flickers and developing smoke columns,” Brown said.

The system is the first of its kind in Northern California, and was a $200 thousand gift from PG&E.

“This adds a safety component to PG&E as well because we want to make sure that our customers are safe and also that our facilities remain safe,” Brittany McKannay of PG&E’s Corporate Relations said.

The system will detect fires from lightning strikes, accidents, and even downed PG&E power lines.

PG&E expects to spend $2 million installing camera systems statewide, with Napa and Calaveras counties next on the agenda.

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