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.

NFPA creates Wildland Fire Operations Advisory Committee

From the National Fire Protection Association, dated May 6, 2010:



Because wildfires are burning hotter and faster than ever before, the National Fire Protection Association’s (NFPA) Division of Wildland Fire Operations has recruited a diverse group of forestry, fire, public safety and planning experts to comprise a Wildland Fire Operations Advisory Committee to help the association protect people and property from wildfires.

“We’ve invited leaders with a broad range of subject matter expertise to enhance our information exchange with the goal of protecting people and property in communities at risk of wildfire,” said Dave Nuss, wildland fire operations division manager for the National Fire Protection Association.

Members, who will serve a three-year term, include representatives from federal, state, local and private organizations. Their broad range of backgrounds includes wildfire research, natural disaster safety and development of NFPA Firewise communities. The Wildland Fire Operations Advisory Committee will convene its first meeting at NFPA headquarters May 19 and 20. The group will be briefed on NFPA’s approach to wildland fire protection issues and begin to develop a strategic plan that will set the course of the Division for the next three to five years.

NFPA’s Wildland Fire Operations Advisory Committee members include:

  • Randy Bradley, fire chief with the Moraga-Orinda Fire District in Orinda, California, and the longtime chair of NFPA’s Technical Committee on Forest and Rural Fire Protection.
  • Jack Cohen, a research physical scientist with the USDA Forest Service Fire Sciences Laboratory in Missoula, Montana. Cohen’s research into how homes ignite during wildfires is extensive and groundbreaking, providing the basis for much current activity in mitigating wildfire risk.
  • Chris Heftel, a private developer based in Spokane, Washington. His River Bluff Ranch development was among the first to incorporate Firewise wildfire safety principles in its design, construction and landscaping.
  • Sarah McCaffrey, a research forester with the USDA Forest Service North Central Research Station. McCaffrey has investigated public perception of wildfire risk, mitigation, and issues surrounding life safety during emergency evacuations.
  • Bill McCammon, executive director of East Bay Regional Communications System Authority in Dublin, California, and a member of NFPA’s Board of Directors.
  • Nancy Oliver, captain of the Taylor, Florida volunteer fire department and chairman of the community’s Firewise group.
  • Julie Rochman, CEO of the Institute for Business & Home Safety, a national nonprofit membership association of insurers based in Tampa, Florida. The institute’s mission is to reduce the social and economic effects of natural disasters and other property losses by conducting research and advocating improved construction, maintenance and preparation practices.
  • Jim Schwab, manager of the American Planning Association’s Hazards Planning Research Center, based in Chicago, Illinois. Schwab is the co-author of a planning advisory service report, “Planning for Wildfires,” and has been involved in hazards planning research for nearly two decades.
  • Dan Smith, fire director for the National Association of State Foresters, based at the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho.
  • Keith Worley, principal of Forestree Development, LLC, in Larkspur, Colorado. An arborist, professional forester and wildfire mitigation specialist, Worley has been a leader in wildfire safety in his community for over a decade.

“People don’t like to think about disasters ahead of time, but if they don’t, firefighters, communities and natural resources are needlessly put in harm’s way. That’s why this advisory panel is so important,” said Jim Schwab, (committee member and manager of the American Planning Association’s Hazards Planning Research Center). “NFPA is helping communities think it through and identify areas to plan and zone before building to avoid loss of life down the road.”

Responsibilities of the NFPA committee include providing perspectives that enhance the Association’s education, policy and advocacy programs. Their insights will help facilitate an information and resource exchange between NFPA’s Wildland Fire Operations Division and individuals and other groups involved in wildland fire safety. Wildland Fire Operations Advisory Committee members also will make program and activity recommendations to strengthen NFPA resources to reduce the impact of wildland fires on people, property and natural resources.

Second controlled burn of oil called a success

oil spill controlled burn
GULF OF MEXICO - Contracted fishing vessels, Mary and Jace and Gulf Rambler, pull an oil boom during a controlled burn in the Gulf of Mexico, May 5, 2010. The controlled burn was conducted in partnership with the U.S. Coast Guard, BP, and other federal agencies to aid in preventing the spread of oil following the April 20 explosion on the Mobile Offshore Drilling Unit Deepwater Horizon. U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Justin E. Stumberg.

Yesterday the Coast Guard conducted two more controlled burns of a portion of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. They believe they burned about 1,000 gallons of oil. Currently the leaking well is continuing to spew an estimated 210,000 gallons a day into the waters of the Gulf.  The last controlled burn was on April 28.

Alabama Forestry Commission to lay off 1/3 of their firefighters

A budget reduction of $5 million within the Alabama Forestry Commission is expected to require that the number of wildland firefighters be reduced by one-third. One hundred firefighters may lose their jobs, reducing the total number from about 300 to 200. The layoffs are expected to begin this summer.

UPDATE, February 23, 2011:

We found an article at Times Daily, dated September 13, 2010,  that said 75 Alabama Forestry Commission employees were laid off in 2010.

One year anniversary of Jesusita fire

Jesusita fire
Jesusita fire

It was a year ago yesterday that the Jesusita fire started near Santa Barbara, California. It burned out of control for several days and blackened 8,733 acres, destroyed 160 structures, and damaged 17 others. There were four burn overs of firefighters. Yes, four burn overs. Not one burn over of four firefighters, but four separate, distinct, burn over incidents.

KEYT has a video look back at the fire.