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        News Release
SDSU Tests New Wildfire-Detection Technology
$1.2 Million Project Under Way at Santa Margarita Ecological Reserve

Contact: Aaron Hoskins
SDSU Marketing & Communications
Office (619) 594-1119, Mobile (619) 987-6356

SAN DIEGO, Thursday, June 23, 2005 – Researchers at San Diego State University are leading a $1.2 million project at SDSU’s Santa Margarita Ecological Reserve to test an early warning fire sensor network they say has the potential to significantly improve wildfire detection and response in San Diego and other high-risk communities.

The network, which will be tested over the next two-and-a-half years, features 13 sensors that can detect the infrared signature of carbon dioxide produced by fires. Each sensor, manufactured by El Cajon-based Ambient Control Systems, can detect a tabletop-sized fire from a quarter-mile away, and larger fires at longer distances. Each sensor, about the size and shape of a large coffee Thermos, also is plugged into the reserve’s wireless communication and sensor network through which it can send researchers or firefighters phone or text messages about a fire’s presence and approximate location. Altogether the 13 sensors, along with four connected cameras and weather stations, will be able to cover 60 percent of the 4,434-acre reserve.

“The reserve’s unadulterated habitats and ecosystems, which have served for more than 40 years as natural labs for scientists around the world, will now play a larger and more direct role in exploring how we can better protect the environment, lives and property from wildfires,” said Reserve Director Claudia Luke. “This fire-sensor network is the first of its kind. The idea is to combine this new sensor technology with the wireless communication system already in place at the reserve to improve our ability to detect fires faster than ever before.”

SDSU field station scientist John Kim said San Diego County and other regions with high risk for wildfires could greatly benefit from this research.

“This project allows us to test and demonstrate how to take cutting edge technology and apply it to detecting fires in the wildland-urban interface,” Kim said. “This is very promising technology that can significantly improve the response time of firefighters, and we also plan to integrate an education web site as part of this project to help raise community awareness and preparation for fire emergencies.”

The project was made possible by a $550,000 grant by the U.S. Department of Commerce Technology Opportunity Program, plus matching funds, equipment and services provided by San Diego State University, Ambient Control Systems, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, Fallbrook Fire Safe Council, the High Performance Wireless Research and Education Network, Mission Resource Conservation District, North County Fire Protection District and Scripps Institution of Oceanography.

San Diego State University is the oldest and largest higher education institution in the San Diego region. Since it was founded in 1897, the university has grown to offer bachelor’s degrees in 81 areas, master’s degrees in 72 areas and doctorates in 16 areas. SDSU’s nearly 33,000 students participate in an academic curriculum distinguished by direct faculty contact and an increasing international emphasis that prepares students for a global future. For more information, visit