You Can Now Track California Burning

I find this simultaneously impressive and a tad repellant (I’m never clear when informed citizenry slips into prurient interest as far as other people’s disasters are concerned). Hat tip Jojo.

The state of California now has Google Maps that track fires, although the site dutifully warns visitors that the information is approximate. We can’t embed it, but here are some screenshots. This is a macro view (click to enlarge):

In typical Google Maps fashion, you can shift to the area of greatest interest and zoom in and out. Here is a closer look at the Sacramento area:

The site also provides links to news stories and even has a “Cal Fire Incidents News RSS feed“.

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  1. Tom Lindmark

    Why would you find it repellant?

    If you lived in the West you would know that this type of information is as important as the weather forecast, maybe more so. Road closures, friends that may be in need, second homes that might be in danger, it does represent some vital information out here in fly over country.

    By the way fires are a part of life here and the Eastern media makes way too much of them. You need to get out of the big city more often.

  2. Yves Smith

    I was going to add a comment that this service, even though it looks like it requires a fair bit of effort to maintain, is probably a big money saver because I imagine the authorities get lots of calls trying to get information about fire status.

    Even though it isn’t what this site is about, there is a strong element in our culture of fascination with tragedies. Look at how stories about fires, murders, flooding typically crowd out coverage of local politics, which may be less jazzy, certainly less visual, but (unless the tragedy coverage motivates people to donate, and they are covered so often I think they typically have a demotivating effect) they have the effect of focusing attention away from areas where individual action might make a difference to ones where they are largely powerless.

    I hope you appreciate the distinction. For people in the area or with an interest in CA, the site is clearly useful. But in a small way it is consistent with a thread in our culture that isn’t completely healthy.

    I’m not sure I’ve adequately articulated what I find amiss here. It may simply be that the sort of media and now internet attention that encourages some unstable people to act out to get press coverage may also play out here. People who start fires intentionally (are there are those that do) now can watch the damage they’ve caused.

    The latter is not a sufficient reason to have a site like this, but it’s an extreme example of the downside of more and better coverage of disasters.

  3. Anonymous

    He said he found it a tad repellent because it could lead to disaster voyeurism, something I saw lots of in the days before Katrina hit. BTW, I live in the center of map two with a dozen fires around me – little chance of a fire starting in my city, but the smoke is choking the entire valley area. Also, if someone is so worried about their second home burning up in those remote areas, s/he should’ve cleared the damn brush from around it like a good neighbor. A lot of folks lose their homes (first and second) by their neighbors (and often their own) utter laziness in clearing away the fuel for fires threatening homes from the area.

  4. Anonymous

    Apologies Yves, it’s even worse than what I thought you meant – someone wanting to see his handiwork on the internet to enjoy it. Really sick, but firebugs are of that type. I thought you only mean disaster voyeurism.

  5. Yves Smith

    No need to apologize, I’m actually troubled by both types, although why the distant voyeurism should bother me is less clear.

  6. Jojo

    I don’t know Yves. I think you’re perhaps making a bigger deal of the voyeurism thing than needs to be. There have been and always will be people who like to watch and people who are influenced by what others have done. It’s just easier these days to watch. It’s also easier to get caught if you are up to no good.

    Would you say the same thing about showing the midwest flooding or earthquake faults? I think not because those are not things that human’s can make happen.

    The fires are very significant economically for Calif. and for insurance companies. I believe I read just the other day that the budget for fire fighting for the season is already blown (and we’ve got 4 more months to go).

    Saw that the federal government is desperately trying to hire more fire fighters for the whole west coast.

    Maybe they should offer a deal to the unemployed. Fight or support the fire fighters at their camps, get paid the usual wages, but since you can’t look for a job while doing so, freeze your unemployment benefits and then restart them when the season is done or you quit. Although I was talking to a guy who worked fighting fires last year the other day. He said the pay was $1900 month (for the 8 month season) + hazard and OT pay. Doesn’t sound like a lot for the danger you have to put yourself in though.

    As to showing fires or other things represented on Google maps, there are many, many mashups of Google maps with much interesting and unique info available. Check this out:

  7. Yves Smith

    Folks, I said “a tad repellant”. But it then led to this long discussion in comments.

    I think it’s also not healthy the way the crane disasters get covered in New York, but it seems that’s what it take to get corrupt inspectors busted. I’ve notice on the street people looking up nervously at cranes and talking among themselves about how worried they are. Even with the coverage, I remained oblivious to them until I started overhearing chatter on the street more than occasionally. I still don’t worry about cranes (please, a car accident is vastly more likely) but I now observe how people behave near buildings with cranes.

    This sort of stuff messes with people’s heads in ways I’m not sure any of us can fully recognize. That may be the root of my sense of disquiet about it.

  8. Peripheral Visionary

    Yves, the fire report is a standard part of the weather report in the West. Fire is a natural part of the ecosystem in the Great Basin, so it has interest from more than a personal disaster angle.

    From an economic perspective, of interest is whether the fires will affect local municipalities, insurance companies, and, of course, the housing inventory. That all seems rather cold in light of personal tragedy, but then, finance has always been a very cold approach to events that can have profound impact, positive and negative, on individuals.

    I would say a fire map is not very different from a foreclosure map; the information is there because it is useful, but underneath every statistic is a potential personal tragedy. At least fire is a product of nature and an essential part of the ecosystem; foreclosures are neither.

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