From a distance, standing on the windy ridge in Las Trampas Regional Park, the space-age contraption surrounded by a chain link fence looks out of place in the middle of swaying grass and a herd of grazing cows. But this array of sensors, hooked up to a central computer, is playing an integral role in protecting this landscape, as part of a network of weather stations that have made a big difference over the last 20 years in monitoring and predicting fire risk in Alameda and Contra Costa counties.
“We can now see patterns and trends that one station wouldn’t really give us, but that the network does provide,” says East Bay Regional Parks Fire Department Assistant Chief John Swanson. “A better understanding of those patterns and trends may have helped us in 1991.”
These Remote Automated Weather Stations (RAWS) represent one of the biggest advancements in fire preparedness since the 1991 Oakland Hills Fire raged through the area now monitored by the new stations. A national RAWS network existed before 1991, but there were no stations in the Bay Area. The Oakland Fire Department now owns two stations, installed in 1994 and 1995. The East Bay Regional Parks District owns four stations, all installed in 1995.
Swanson said the data from this network of stations could have helped predict the surprising behavior of the 1991 fire.
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