Fire camera installed on Centenary Tower

AN EYE ON FIRE FROM THE TOWER: Manager of the Green Triangle Fire Alliance, Anthony Walsh with the new camera prior to its installation on Centenary Tower on Wednesday.

Kathy Gandolfi

CENTENARY Tower, on Mount Gambier’s highest peak, is now the site of a specialised camera which is designed to spot fires early.

Installed on Wednesday, the new fire camera is the third of its kind to be installed in the lower south east region by the Green Triangle Fire Alliance (GTFA) which was formed in the last 12 months by the nine forest growers represented by the Green Triangle Forestry Industry Hub (GTFIH) to assist fire protection of the forest estate in the region.

The other two cameras were installed last year on fire towers at The Bluff, and off Tower Road near Penola.

With fire danger season for the lower south east beginning last Monday, the new camera’s installation on top of Centenary Tower is timely.

Not visible from the ground, the new camera will give fire spotters a new advantage in being able to monitor the expansive view over Mount Gambier and surrounding districts.

GTFA Manager, Anthony Walsh said while the tower had previously been manned for fire seasons, the new camera was welcomed as a safer option and allowed the same view to be monitored off site at the Emergency Services Centre in Mount Gambier where information from all three fire cameras can be viewed on monitors.

“With increasing occupational health and safety requirements, some of these towers had become unsuitable as manned sites,” he said, explaining that in the case of Centenary Tower fire staff in the past had been required to wear safety harnesses as a precaution while viewing from the tower’s platform as strong northerly winds would make the conditions on the tower difficult.

“In addition, the tower was only manned during extreme fire danger days, but with the camera it will be searching the surrounding landscape every day during the whole fire danger season.”

Mr Walsh said the cameras rotate every two minutes and take a photograph at every 30 degree point.

“The images from the camera are fed back to a system in the monitoring office and provides a form of artificial intelligence in analysing the information,” he said.

“If the system ascertains that there is a change in the images from the previous photograph taken on the previous rotation, it sends an alert so the person monitoring the screens can take a closer look at the images and determine what the change might be.

“It might not be a fire that the camera has picked up; it might be something else like a truck driving along a road kicking up some dust and the person monitoring the screens will be able to see that.

“But if the reason for the change looks like smoke, the monitoring person can immediately alert fire authorities.”

Developed in South Africa by former fire fighting pilots, the camera was installed and will be monitored on behalf of the GTFA by national company, Working On Fire, which also operates similar systems for customers in New South Wales and Tasmania.

General Manager of Working on Fire, Tim Buckland was in Mount Gambier for the installation of the camera.

“This camera will be able to see just as far as a human can so a location like this (Centenary Tower) is perfect for the view that it offers,” he said.

“These cameras can detect something as small as a campfire,” Mr Buckland said.

“And they can tell us to within 200 metres or better as to where the fire is so the smaller the fire is, and the quicker that resources can get to it, the better chance there is of controlling the fire before it gets big and out of control.”

Mr Walsh said the camera would not just protect the forests in the region.

“The camera will assist in protecting the broader community from fires as its in the entire community’s interest to stop fires, wherever they start,” he said.

Mr Walsh said the GTFA had funded the installation of the camera at a cost of about $10,000 plus monitoring costs.

“We have a vision of extending the network of fire cameras further, and we will be seeking some funding for that,” Mr Walsh said explaining that assistance to install the first two cameras had been a combined effort from the State Government’s Forestry SA and industry.

“But this particular camera (on Centenary Tower) has been totally funded by industry,” Mr Walsh said.

The cameras complement six staffed fire observation towers in the lower south east at Mount Burr, Lake Edward, Comaun, Furner, Mount Benson and just across the border at Rennick.