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Mt. Zion Tower Adds Two Web Cams to Raise Funds

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By Jim Reece

The Amador Fire Safe Council has added two new live-feed Internet cameras to its fund-raising arsenal, giving annual donors access to more pristine views from the Mt. Zion fire season observation tower.

Two cameras were added last year as an incentive to donors to help the council in its annual fund drive to raise money to keep the Mt. Zion Lookout Tower open for the season.

The new cameras were made possible with a $2,500 grant from the Amador Community Foundation, said Project Coordinator Cathy Koos Breazeal of the fire safe council.

“Subscribers to the Amador Fire Safe Web site will now be able to view the central Sierras, foothills and valley in four geographic directions,” Breazeal said. “In addition, Pine Grove Computers donated a router and other equipment and a small cadre of dedicated volunteers installed and connected the cameras for remote viewing.”

With the help of donors and volunteers, AFSC has raised more than $7,000, Breazeal said. That money goes with $15,000 left over from last fire season, a surplus that resulted from the tower being closed early.

Members of the fire safe council and other groups gathered Friday at the base of the tower to tell about the new cameras and the function and purpose of the Mt. Zion tower itself.

The budget to operate the tower, from sunup to sundown, seven days a week, for the roughly five-month fire season is about $38,000, said Mike Kirkley, division chief of the Pine Grove Camp of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection´s Amador-El Dorado Unit.

The fire season typically lasts until Oct. 15, but depends on the weather, he said. It also might be staffed with a north or east “wind event,” in which the conditions for stoking a wildfire are dangerous and hazardous, or if a dry air mass with low relative humidity is prevalent.

He said such was the case in last year´s Power Fire and also in the 1960s when the county had probably one of its biggest ever wildfires, the Rancheria Fire. The Rancheria Fire started at Rancheria Creek and Highway 49, burned toward Upcountry, then turned down into Sutter Creek High School and burned toward Ione.

The Power Fire last year burned downhill stoked by 60 to 70 mph easterly winds.

The unit´s personnel staff the tower in fire season, using it to spot smoke in daytime hours, with a 365-degree site table.

The spotter – last Friday it was Lookout Andrew Mensch – pinpoints the location of the fire, sometimes marking its location adjacent to landmarks. The data is drawn as a line on a map at headquarters and dispatchers then get the same type of data from the Calaveras County CDF unit, from its Blue Mountain Lookout Tower.

“When Zion gets it, you know exactly where it is on the map,” Kirkley said.

The shared data gives a triangulation, pinpointing the exact location of the fire, so responders can best attack the fire.

Early detection and location of the fire is key, so the sooner you find the fire, the sooner you can get resources there and better control the fire, Kirkley said.

The spotter also can tell something of the severity of the fire and determine whether greater or lesser resources would be needed and, in effect, can help with efficiency. The smoke color gives an idea of the material involved, Kirkley said. Wispy, intermittent smoke is a sign of a weak fire, while a column of darker smoke means a stronger (and a faster spreading) fire is present.

The photographs shown on the Web site are available to donors who buy a one-year subscription to the camera and Web site, for $30 per year. The still photographs are updated every 15 minutes or so, Breazeal said.

The Web site was designed by Webmaster and AFSC President Lola Blevins, who was also at the tower base Friday, along with Treasurer Jim Simmons.

Amador Community Foundation Executive Director Shannon Lowery also attended, climbing with some of the others to the top of the tower to talk with the lookout on duty, Mensch.

Mensch wheeled around the 365-degree azimuth siting table, which has its own map and a site and crosshairs to dial in landmarks or smoke when there is a fire.

He dialed in a mountain toward Martell, while Kirkley pointed out landmarks here and there – the graded plateau of the Martell business park, some balding hilltops from a fire years ago and lakes Tabeaud and Pardee.

Past AFSC Executive Director Susan Snoke found the grant and got the funding for the two new cameras, Breazeal said. Donations also came pouring in from local groups. Lowery´s Amador Community Foundation gave a grant for $2,500 to fund new equipment and repairs on the other cameras, with work to be done soon.

Other corporate contribution pledges included $2,500 from Pacific Gas & Electric Co., $1,000 from East Bay Municipal Utilities District and $500 from Golden State Cellular.

Breazeal said she took over where Snoke left off and finished coordinating the grant work and getting help with installing the cameras.

Others stepped up, she said. Maureen Murray, a local resident, volunteered to keep the database of mailings and reminders for getting contributions for the tower staffing and Dick Hess, an AFSC director, continued support and efforts toward the Mt. Zion tower staffing.

Keith Breazeal, retired chief, handled logistics of the installation and mounting the cameras and also provided some great pictures for the Web site, Breazeal said. Ted Nichols and Donna Karolchik, local residents, provided camera software configurations and cable hookups.

Breazeal said she wanted to thank Janis Brackett and the tower staff “who had to deal with lots of people rummaging around in the tower cabin while they were working” and also the CDF staff who made it possible to mount the cameras in the first place.

She also thanked the many Amador County residents who contribute to the Mt. Zion tower staffing campaign and also Bob Guzman of Pine Grove Computers, who provided routers for the cameras.

The AFSC´s Web site is located at . For information, contact the council at Amador Firesafe Council or e mail them at amadorfiresafe or call 296-6220.

Printed with permission from Amador Ledger Dispatch