New thermal imaging cameras make first apperance on San Diego fire lines

SAN DIEGO - For the first time, a thermal imaging camera was tested in San Diego County during the recent fires. 

Cal Fire Deputy Chief Marc Hafner showed 10News the $4,000 Flir thermal imaging camera that can see through smoke.

In one Flir video, a cloud of smoke is seen in one screen. In another screen, an infrared camera spies through the smoke, spotting a truck's heat signature driving toward a hot spot.

San Diego County Supervisor Ron Roberts, who is pushing to buy cameras for local crews, says zeroing in on the hot spots is critical.

"You can put your crews on the actual fire instead of spraying all over. I compare it to using a shotgun. We can use a rifle," said Roberts.

The camera can also spot fire victims inside a home. In another video, a smoke-filled home is seen on the right. On the left, the camera quickly spots the person through the smoke.

In the San Diego region, the camera testing is attached to Hafner, who spent much of his time during the recent fires overseeing the fire fight. 

He was on the front lines in Bernardo Fire, where he pointed the camera at smoke in canyon.

"I was able to look at it, see where the fire was coming, see how far ahead it was … and alert a strike team of engines," said Hafner. "I told them you probably have 2 minutes before this fire is going to hit this fire. The guys started pulling hose and did their job."

Other jobs that can be taken on by the camera include peering through smoke and spotting smoldering embers on rooftops and arcing power lines.

Urban fire crews use similar technology, but their thermal cameras are considered too bulky and the battery lives too short for wildfire crews.

Roberts is hoping to find funding for 100 cameras for local firefighters.

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