There was a fire.

Photo from Justin Quinn Photography

Nobody was killed, not even injured. But it was a big fire right in town. As the smoke filled the air around my house (safely 2 miles from the fire) I started to wonder what was going on. I took to twitter to get some information, and it didn’t seem good.

Uncontained and in a residential area. So while reading I found a lot of info about size and location descriptions but no maps, nothing showing described evacuation areas and potential evacuation areas where folks should be getting ready to move. So I made a map. Here is a screen grab after updates the next morning.

Screen Shot 2014-09-17 at 11.19.49 AM

Red ‘suitcases’ meant evacuation order had been issued, orange meant prepare for evacuation order. These orders come from emergency services, but I was sourcing reports from the Gazette Times.

Here is the map link, but the image below is what you see when you browse to any of my Mapbox free account maps right now.

Screen Shot 2014-09-17 at 4.10.30 PM

And that is just fine. I hit the ceiling of some arbitrary number of map views that Mapbox uses to control free/paid subscriptions. Fair enough, no problem. The map was done by the time it was cut off. By done, I mean it no longer had value as a map. It was an ephemeral map. It served a purpose and went away.

Icon by Matt Brooks

The map was started on a whim, because I couldn’t find a map on the web of where it was burning. I tweeted this out.

While not overwhelming, the response was quick, and there were folks that appreciated a decent map to see current and potential evacuation areas. It really did amaze me just how many people were using twitter to get updates. I got several replies and private messages from the current, and update tweets made later that night.

The map was retweeted a small number of times, and then by some local TV news reporters and must have ended up posted somewhere that drove more traffic to the map. Notice that the Gazette Times is included in the above tweet. I included them in my initial tweet in hopes that they might retweet the map, as it seemed helpful. However, I can understand a news organization not wanting to put out unconfirmed info, it would be easy enough to confirm. Instead they produced their own map shown here.

Gazette Times

Some of my initial concerns about producing a potentially inaccurate map were quickly abated when I viewed this local newspaper map. I figured I couldn’t be less accurate. I also chose to show potential evacuation zones, and updated status, any pertinent information, and always tied to a source. Usually the Gazette Times.

This story has a happy ending because no one was hurt and the fire crews did an amazing job protecting people and structures . But as you can see from the image below, the situation could have turned much worse very quickly. The homes are feet from the fire line.

Gazette Times

Information dissemination is critical in an emergency, and simple tools like Mapbox make it so easy to produce high quality maps.

But there is a big issue with citizen volunteers. What if my house was in the evacuation zone after I had started the project? How could someone else pick up the map baton? It made me think of a huge feature request for our friends at mapbox. Wouldn’t it be great if, instead of just the map viewer URL, we could share an editor URL for mapbox maps. This way, others, without much training, could use these powerful tools to make updates and provide valuable information.  So…

Also, I would like to invite any reporters from the Gazette Times to the first #maptime meetup in Corvallis by @maptimCVO. We will be exploring map making in a beginner friendly way, and it would be so easy for the GT to add nice maps of important information!

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