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Thieves steal fire lookout camera equipment

The Jackson County Sheriff’s Office released images of the face of one of the suspects in a fire lookout equipment theft case. [ODF photo]
The Jackson County Sheriff’s Office released images of the face of one of the suspects in a fire lookout equipment theft case. [ODF photo]
Camera can’t work without solar panel, batteries

The Jackson County Sheriff’s Office is asking for the public’s help in identifying two men who stole batteries and solar panels used to power a lookout tower’s fire detection camera.

The two men broke into the lookout tower in the Prospect area at about 12:45 p.m. Sunday, the sheriff’s office said.

A surveillance camera on the lookout tower captured video of two men climbing the tower. The video shows a close view of one of the men wearing a Mossy Oak brand baseball cap, sunglasses, a mask over his mouth and a T-shirt. The man then grabs the surveillance camera and twists it to point up toward the sky before it can capture a close image of the second suspect.

Without power, the fire detection camera in northeastern Jackson County can’t feed images into the Oregon Department of Forestry’s fire and smoke detection system. The system of mountaintop cameras across Jackson and Josephine counties helps catch fires when they’re small, and also provides imagery to help guide firefighters as they attack fires.

“It’s a really unfortunate situation because it does hinder our ability to detect fires early in that area,” said Natalie Weber, spokeswoman for ODF’s Southwest Oregon District. “Our detection system is a very valuable resource that’s here not only for ODF, but all the agencies benefit.”

Local fire districts that respond to home fires and the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest are among the agencies that use information from ODF’s detection system, Weber said.

ODF is working to find replacement equipment to get the camera functioning again, she said.

“Unfortunately, a lot of the things taken were specialty pieces for that camera system that are hard to get a hold of. We’re working to order and purchase those,” Weber said.

She said the solar and battery setup for the camera will essentially have to be rebuilt.

“It’s pretty crazy. We’re a little shocked. We’re doing what we can to get it back online,” Weber said.

She said ODF is grateful to the sheriff’s office for the work it’s putting into investigating the case and its efforts to get public help in identifying the thieves. The sheriff’s office has released photos and the surveillance video to the media and posted the visual evidence on its Facebook page.

“Hopefully someone recognizes them,“ Weber said.

Anyone with information about the men or the theft can call the sheriff’s office tip line at 541-774-8333 and reference case 22-4725.