Writing up a (fire) storm

Since yesterday, thousands of people have read my brief account of the Black Forest Fire. I tried to include enough maps that someone far away from the fire (like me) would find some context for it that made sense, and enough detailed links to more local reporting and official sources that someone nearby would be able to get to the resource that had more current and on-the-spot coverage than I could ever do.

I've written fire-related posts before, including one for the Duck Lake Fire near Newberry, MI last year. I make sure to get good detailed maps of that area, because there's a pattern that burned-over areas provide good morel mushroom hunting the year after and good blueberry picking grounds for years to come.

When fires hit near an urban area, there's an immediate influx of television and newspaper resources to help local residents sort through what people have to do to keep themselves and their homes safe. Imagery from fires is dramatic. When it's time to put this information on a map, it's a real challenge in real-time cartography in an environment where you might not always know exact details.

Writing about fires is thus a way to simultaneously make sense of the news and participate in its creation. You try to not make matters worse by carefully time and date stamping your observations so that it doesn't become old news that recirculates as new. Twitter is helpful but oh so fragmented, and most of the people I know through that channel are far enough away from any given incident not to care very much. The traffic to my Black Forest Fire page came in overwhelmingly from search, and the most common search term was "black forest fire map" – exactly the first thing that I was looking for when I heard about it. If you can answer "where is this thing happening", "do I know anyone nearby", and "who knows more about it than I do", you can get to a point where your combination of links becomes a resource.

Related articles

Duck Lake Fire, north of Newberry MI
Preliminary list of homes damaged by Black Forest Fire
Slideshow: Black Forest Fire continues to burn homes
Best YouTube videos of Black Forest, Royal Gorge fires
Black Forest Fire near Colorado Springs, Colorado (with maps)
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