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West Lake Hills Spends $200,000 On New FireWatch Camera
Unforgettable images Monday night showed us how easily winds whipped up a large brush fire in Hornsby Bend. It was easy to spot the smoke from KEYE TV’s towercam, but how does the city and county do it? Especially in remote areas?
We learned West Lake Hills is investing hundreds of thousands of dollars into a new camera system that detects fires before they spread. Mayor Dave Claunch said it's the first city in the nation to use what's known as a FireWatch camera.
"When the wind picks up like this, the first thing that goes through my mind is what would happen if there's an ignition," Mayor Claunch said on Wednesday.
He told us the City of Westlake Hills has spent the last two years researching this new eye in the sky.
"Wildfire is by far the greatest public safety concern in West Lake Hills," he explained. "We have a very unique terrain, lots of steep canyons and hills and heavy wooded property. If a fire started here, it would spread rapidly."
"We looked at several systems that are basically remote cameras systems that require an operator to sit in a room and interpret and analyze the images as they're being fed from the cameras," he continued. "We don't have the manpower for that type of system."
Instead the city is purchasing a camera designed to detect a fire on its own before it spreads. According to FireWatch, sensors can detect smoke and fire up to 20 miles away as it rotates 360 degrees every ten minutes. Once the sensors pinpoint a fire, they'll relay the location and images to dispatchers at the West Lake Hills Police Department.
"If this camera system meets our expectations as we hope, we believe it will be the first of a larger network of cameras across all of Central Texas," Mayor Claunch said.
The cost for one camera is $200,000. Since one has never been used before in Central Texas, Mayor Claunch admitted it's a risk.
He told us he recently worked out a compromise with the manufacturer. If the FireWatch camera does not meet expectations, the system can be returned after one year for an 80 percent refund.
"Spending $40,000 on this system to test it and hopefully have it work out is really a no brainer for our city council; it is absolutely a good investment," Mayor Claunch concluded.
He said the camera should be up and running in less than six months. The annual budget for the City of West Lake Hills is about $3 million dollars.
Austin and Travis County have also expressed interest in the FireWatch camera, but leaders told KEYE TV they want to wait and see if the system lives up to its name.
By Katherine Stolp