The tree-scorching Rim Fire roaring through Yosemite — one of the largest fires in California’s history at this point — is so big satellites can see it with ease from space. By Monday, the wildfire had consumed more than 144,000 acres and drawn some 3,000 firefighters to the scene; as of this morning, those figures have surged to more than 184,000 acres blackened and 4,000 firefighters battling the blaze, with containment still at just 20%.
Esri, the company I wrote about on Monday that specializes in geographical information systems, or GIS, just released a new version of its wildfire tracking tool that offers several unique views of the fire, including the specific areas and infrastructure threatened by the fire, a view that illustrates how the fire has grown since it started on August 17 and a comparison angle that shows where fires have burned near Yosemite in the past.
As you’ll see if you start clicking around, each layer offers considerably more nuance than the basic public information map. In the default “Critical Points of Interest” view, you can see crucial locations like the O’Shaughnessy Dam and reservoir, which supplies water to the San Francisco Bay Area, or the groves of ancient sequoias — some of the oldest living things on the planet — threatened by the blaze.
If you tab down to the “Fire Progression” view, you can click on different colored areas of the fire, like layers on a topographical map, to see pop-ups detailing where the fire’s perimeter was on a given day, and you can also see which areas the Rim Fire’s most likely to go next based on “wildfire potential” coloring that reflects areas more or less likely to burn intensely.
And if you click the “Yosemite National Park Fire History” tab, you can cycle through prior wildfires in the vicinity, contrasting their size to the current one (which looks to be the biggest the area’s yet seen).
What’s missing? When I spoke with Esri last summer, they told me they have far more intricate versions of these maps that let responders (like firefighters) keep tabs on assets like vehicles and actual personnel in the field, more or less in real time. I understand why that technology isn’t publicly accessible, but you can imagine where this is heading, allowing GIS-based responder coordination at unprecedented levels of detail.