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Google Maps to show wildfire locations, emergency contacts

Ted S. Warren
AP Images

Google Maps will soon launch a new filter that shows the location of active wildfires. Beyond that, when you click on a blaze, it will show emergency resources related to it.

“It’s important to also pair that geospatial information with things like emergency phone numbers, emergency websites, evacuation information,” said Vanessa Schneider, who works with Google’s crisis response team that built this tool. “So whenever that information is available, we try to surface that within the Google Maps layer itself.”

Schneider said Google has been working on mapping and providing resources for all kinds of natural disasters over the last several years. This new filter will show major fires all around the globe.

For the U.S., though, the layer will be able to show smaller wildfires thanks to the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC). That Boise-based organization includes several governmental agencies and aggregates national fire data, which can be accessed or used by anyone (including Google).

But fires can move fast. Jessica Gardetto works for the Bureau of Land Management within NIFC, and said while Google's map layer is a good tool, it isn’t perfect.

“These perimeters/maps are uploaded from NIFC Open source data. Because wildfires move very quickly, the Google layer may not reflect the most current fire perimeter locations and thus, the public should always monitor and work with local law enforcement and fire managers for potential evacuations and other public safety issues,” she wrote in a statement.

Beyond that, Google won’t be able to update maps in an area where cell towers go down, so that’s another reason to contact local personnel for help when possible.

Expect the new feature to show up in Google Maps “filters” in the coming weeks. Just look for the section that has a symbol that looks like stacked pages and options to view traffic and terrain.

Schneider said users will likely see more additions to Google Maps layers in the years to come.

“We’re excited to bring more of this ‘crisis aware’ information throughout the Google Maps app just to really figure out ways to help people navigate the real world and know when these events are happening, and how it might affect where they’re navigating to or where they’re headed next.”

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Nevada Public Radio, Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Copyright 2021 Boise State Public Radio News. To see more, visit Boise State Public Radio News.

Madelyn Beck is a regional Illinois reporter, based in Galesburg. On top of her work for Harvest Public Media, she also contributes to WVIK, Tri-States Public Radio and the Illinois Newsroom collaborative.
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