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Province replaces fire tower operators with cameras
Wildfires can be a devastating disaster to any natural landscape. They can start without warning and spread quickly. For many years fire-tower operators were kept eyes on the horizon, vigilantly looking for signs of fire with the intention of getting the word out before the fire got out of control. There are three fire towers in the Nipawin area. All were previously manned by dedicated individuals who’s job it was to keep a lookout for the rest of us. That is changing. The provincial government has decided that it is time to let technology take over the job that was once done by the fire-tower operators. The plan is to demolish the cupolas, which are the cabins on top of the tower where the tower observers lived, and replace them with cameras. “We feel it’s a better way,” said Carrot River Valley MLA Fred Bradshaw, adding that as technology changes they have now come up with cameras that can do what previously had to be done by a person. Bradshaw said the cameras are equipped with infrared technology and, unlike people, can see through smoke to better pinpoint a fires location. “We believe it’s going to do a better job in detection,” he said. This technology is currently being used on most of the fire towers in Oregon. Not only does he believe the cameras will work better, Bradshaw said with observers being in the middle of nowhere and all alone having a camera instead of a person will be safer. Saskatchewan Government and General Employees Union President Bob Bymoen said he believes getting rid of operators is not a good idea. “They play a significant role in fire suppression,” he said, adding, “Tower observers are a part of the environment, they know the terrain.” Bymoen said observers not only watch for fires, but when there is one, they have the backs of the fire crews as they are trying to put it out. “A lot of times the radios will reach the tower but not the base,” he said adding that tower observers sometimes provide a communications link between the fire crew on the ground and the operations base, which is sometimes a vast distance away. Bymoen also said that they tried this technology in Australia and it didn’t work. Bymoen said that the government will start tearing down cupolas this week. He said that doing so before giving the cameras a trial run is a bad idea because if the cameras do not work out it will cost a lot of money to go back and rebuild cupolas. “We think it’s a lot of risk. It’s a reckless decision,” he said.