Wireless sensor networks constitute a powerful technology particularly suitable for environmental monitoring. With regard to wildfires, they enable low-cost fine-grained surveillance of hazardous locations like wildland-urban interfaces. This paper presents work developed during the last 4 years targeting a vision-enabled wireless sensor network node for the reliable, early on-site detection of forest fires. The tasks carried out ranged from devising a robust vision algorithm for smoke detection to the design and physical implementation of a power-efficient smart imager tailored to the characteristics of such an algorithm. By integrating this smart imager with a commercial wireless platform, we endowed the resulting system with vision capabilities and radio communication. Numerous tests were arranged in different natural scenarios in order to progressively tune all the parameters involved in the autonomous operation of this prototype node. The last test carried out, involving the prescribed burning of a 95 x 20-m shrub plot, confirmed the high degree of reliability of our approach in terms of both successful early detection and a very low false-alarm rate.