Infrared cameras have emerged as an effective tool for detecting early signs of fire in waste piles, enabling facility operators to take preventive measures and avoid or minimize the spread of fires.
By David C. Bursell

Waste facilities face significant challenges in managing the risks associated with fires. These risks are exceptionally high in facilities that receive combustible materials, such as landfills and recycling plants. Fires in waste facilities can cause severe damage, disrupt operations, and threaten public health and the environment. In recent years, infrared cameras have emerged as an effective tool for early fire detection in waste facilities.

Early fire detection is critical in waste facilities because it allows for prompt action to be taken to prevent the spread of fires. Infrared cameras are particularly effective because they can detect heat signatures that are not visible to the naked eye. These cameras use infrared technology to detect temperature changes that indicate the potential for ignition.

Reduce Fire Challenges
Infrared cameras are an effective sensor selection for fire detection in waste facilities due to their ability to operate in rugged environments. Waste facilities are typically harsh environments, with dust, debris, and moisture present in the air, making it difficult for traditional fire sensors to operate effectively. Infrared cameras can function in these conditions, providing accurate and reliable temperature readings. Following are some examples on how infrared cameras can help reduce fire challenges faced by waste facilities.

Early Detection
Infrared cameras can detect temperature changes in waste piles, even before smoke or flames are visible, allowing facility operators to identify potential fire risks early on. This early detection enables them to take preventive measures and avoid the spread of fires, which can cause significant damage (see Figure 1).


Figure 1:
Infrared cameras detect hotspots at the earliest stages of fire progression.
Figures courtesy of MoviTherm.

Continuous Monitoring
Infrared cameras can operate 24/7, which means they can monitor waste piles continuously, even when personnel are not present. This is particularly useful for waste facilities that operate round-the-clock or have remote sites where personnel can only sometimes be present.

Reduce Response Time
Infrared cameras can reduce the response time of facility management to fire incidents. By alerting them to potential fire risks early on, they can respond promptly and take the necessary actions to prevent or contain the fire.

Improve Safety
Infrared cameras can improve the safety of waste facility personnel by reducing the risk of fires. By detecting these early on, infrared cameras can help prevent injuries and fatalities.

To maximize the effectiveness of infrared cameras in detecting fires, they must be installed properly. Following are best practices to consider when using infrared cameras for early fire detection pile monitoring.

To get the best possible view of the pile, infrared cameras should be installed at a height that allows them to capture the entire area. This may require mounting the camera on a tower or another elevated structure (see Figure 2).


Figure 2: Mounting an IR camera high is best for hot spot detection of piles.

The distance between the camera and the pile is also essential. If the camera is too far away, it may not be able to capture heat signatures accurately. Conversely, if the camera is too close, it may be at risk of damage from heat or other environmental factors. IR imagery is made up of several thousand-pixel measurements. The proper camera resolution combined with the correct optic and distance will ensure enough pixels on target for measurement and monitoring (see Figure 3).


Figure 3:
Appropriate IR camera distance ensures adequate pixel imaging for optimal detection.

The angle of the camera can also impact its effectiveness. Ideally, the camera should be angled to capture a top-down view of the pile, as this will provide the clearest and most comprehensive picture of any heat sources. It also prevents the collection of particulate and dust on camera lensing, reducing the transmission of infrared radiation and causing inaccurate measurements.

Environmental Factors
It is essential to consider environmental factors that may impact the camera’s effectiveness, such as wind or rain. Cameras should be protected from these elements as much as possible to remain functional. Infrared cameras require an enclosure fitted with an IR transmissive window that matches the sensing waveband of the IR camera (see Figure 4).


Figure 4:
IR Camera Ruggedized Enclosure with IR Window.

Key Locations
Regarding monitoring waste piles, there are a few key locations where infrared cameras can be particularly effective.

Loading and Unloading Areas
Waste piles often grow rapidly during the loading and unloading process as trucks deposit their contents onto the pile. By installing infrared cameras in these areas, it is possible to monitor for any heat sources that may be introduced during this process.

Near Hazardous Materials
Waste piles may contain hazardous materials that can ignite when exposed to heat. Installing cameras near these materials makes it possible to detect any heat sources before they become a fire hazard.

Near Ignition Sources
Waste piles may also be located near ignition sources, such as electrical equipment or smoking areas. Installing cameras in these locations can help quickly identify potential fire hazards.

Take Preventive Measures
Waste management facilities face significant fire challenges, which can be mitigated by early detection and prompt response. Infrared cameras have emerged as an effective tool for detecting early signs of fire in waste piles, enabling facility operators to take preventive measures and avoid or minimize the spread of fires. By following best practices for installing infrared cameras, waste facilities can ensure their effectiveness in monitoring waste piles and preventing fire incidents. | WA

David C. Bursell is passionate about imaging technologies and solutions. For more than 23 years, he has been extensively involved with infrared imaging science. He has worked for imaging companies, including Inframetrics, FLIR Systems, and, where he is currently the Vice President of Business Development. When not working with infrared cameras, David enjoys restoring old cars. A current project includes the restoration of a 1977 Toyota FJ40 Landcruiser. He can be reached at (949) 699-6600, ext. 121 or e-mail  [email protected].