Combining fire history and social media

Interactive wildfire history mapStudents at the University of British Columbia Okanagan have developed a very innovative interactive system for both displaying and collecting wildfire history. Using Google Maps as a foundation, they display the historical perimeters of wildfires, but they allow anyone who registers at the web site to add their own personal stories and photos about specific fires and discuss relevant issues in a forum.

I love maps, and this system developed by Samatha Brennan and Aidan Whiteley, under Dr. Jon Corbett at UBC Okanagan, combines maps, interactive fire history, and social media in a way that as far as I know has never been done. Some of the comments and photos left by the general public may not be gems, but this project, still brand new, has potential.

When I first went to the site and clicked on a comment, sometimes a portion of the popup box would be off the screen, until I found the “Expand” option at the top-left that fills the screen with the map, providing more room for the popup boxes. As more input from the public fills the map, it would be nice if there were an easy way to filter the on-screen comments by year with one click, or if they could be controlled by the time slider for fire perimeters at the bottom of the screen. That is, comment buttons about a 1999 fire would only appear when you were viewing the fire perimeters from that year.

It will be interesting to see how this site is used during a going fire, as people discuss where the fire is, talk about evacuations, post current geo-linked photos, and ask questions. Congratulations to Ms. Brennan and Mr. Whiteley for this very interesting project.

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Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire.