Wildfire news aggregators

This year we have become aware of four new web sites that compile or aggregate information about wildland fires. Some are better than others, but it is very interesting that there is suddenly an interest in private companies providing this information.

Most of these sites collect information at a minimum from the National Interagency Fire Center’s daily Situation Report or InciWeb, and they display fire names, acres, and containment percentage. They may also have maps showing data from the MODIS satellite and in some cases fire perimeters.

One major limiting factor in all of these services is that the thermal fire and perimeter data is never “real time”–it is always 2 to 30 hours out of date. A goal for the fire management agencies should be to provide real-time imagery downlinking from aerial platforms in such a manner that it can be immediately distributed by aggregators such as these listed below. This data could not only be used by residents immediately affected by the fires, but also, and more importantly, by the incident management teams actually suppressing the fires.

Over a major fire in southern california you will see four to eight TV station helicopters providing real time video to their stations.

The technology is not the problem. Someone just needs to “make it so”.

We’re not sure what the motivation is for providing these aggregation services. None of them have advertising (yet), but they may have long-range plans to monetize the sites.

Wildfire by Fetch Technologies

This site has a U.S. map, based on Google Maps, showing all current fires; a clickable list of fires with start date, size and containment percentage; maps showing red flag areas and fire danger; and something unique to these sites, an assortment of YouTube videos about recent fires.

From their web site:

Fetch Technologies provides innovative solutions for extracting, integrating, and accessing Web data. Our flagship product, the Fetch Agent Platform, makes it easy to collect data for intelligence applications, market research, and more. The Fetch approach relies on Artificial Intelligence, rather than programmer brain power, to handle many of the complex issues that arise when gathering information from disparate sources, including web sites, web services, and remote databases.

We clicked on the Tea fire in their list of fires and it brought up a map. The fire’s location was pinpointed… out in the Pacific Ocean about 40 miles away from the actual location.

This site does not have fire perimeters or MODIS satellite data.

Pitney Bowes Fire Locator

This site is very new and is still in the beta development stage. They seem to be improving it on a daily basis, in part thanks suggestions left on their Feedback page.

In order to use the site you have to download and install Microsoft’s Silverlight browser plugin, which is Microsoft’s alternative to Adobe Systems’ Flash. NBC used it during the recent Olympics for streaming video with some success.

The site only has a map, based on Microsoft’s Virtual Earth. It has icons for active fires and clickable layers for MODIS thermal data, California Wildfire Risk Zones, Aerial Thermal Images, Fire Boundaries, InciWeb information, Local News, and photos from Flickr.

As we said in a comment on an earlier post, this site is a work in progress. It is cumbersome to move around or zoom in and out on the map. Double-clicking on a fire icon moves the center of the map to a completely different area, thousands of miles away from the fire.

Crisis Wire

We visited this site several weeks ago and they had some basic information about some ongoing fires, but today it has nothing, saying:

Thankfully, there are no major disasters or emergencies that we are aware of at the moment.

CrisisWire’s true power will be displayed as soon as a crisis occurs, so please bookmark this page. We’ll be adding more options for subscription and notification (like Twitter) of new crises and emergencies soon.

Apparently they intend to provide information about:

emergencies, disaster, and crisis infomation in real time

Enplan Wildfire Viewer

This site provides data only about California, and it’s only feature is a map, based on Google Maps. We accessed the site during the Siege of ’08, the huge lightning bust in northern California this year, and it usually showed the fire perimeters when they were available, which is very useful if you need to know where a fire is.

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