Much of Southern California is currently under attack by wildfires. As a San Diego resident, I've suddenly taken an intense interest in local news. I've located several good Internet resources for staying on top of the fires' progress, including Twitter, Google Maps, Web sites and blogs. I'm passing them along for our SoCal readers, and anybody else who wants to stay on top of the progress of the emergency. </p>

Mitch Wagner, California Bureau Chief, Light Reading

October 23, 2007

4 Min Read

Much of Southern California is currently under attack by wildfires. As a San Diego resident, I've suddenly taken an intense interest in local news. I've located several good Internet resources for staying on top of the fires' progress, including Twitter, Google Maps, Web sites and blogs. I'm passing them along for our SoCal readers, and anybody else who wants to stay on top of the progress of the emergency.

The most useful Internet resource I've found is, surprisingly, Twitter: The local public radio and TV station, KPBS, is posting realtime updates on the KPBS Twitter feed.

I've identified two Google Maps providing fire information: This one, which is linked to from the KPBS.org Web site, and this one, which was passed along to me by a colleague.

I'm also finding Google Maps to be very valuable in keeping track of just how close the fire is to our house. We've lived here ten years, but I don't know where every neighborhood is. When I hear about neighborhood that's been evacuated, I punch in the location and find out the distance between that area and my house. I was using my iPhone for that yesterday, but now I've switched to the laptop computer, to save battery life on the phone in case of emergency.

Also, emergency services are saying to avoid making cell phone calls, to keep the bandwidth available for emergencies.

The local news site, SignOnSanDiego, has a wildfire blog. SignOnSanDiego is the Web site for the local newspaper, the San Diego Union-Tribune.

One of the local TV news stations, NBC, is offering news updates via text message.

You can listen to streaming audio from the PBS Web site. The last I checked, the radio station itself was off the air -- their tower is on San Miguel Mountain, which is under fire -- but the Web site now says they're broadcasting on 94.9 FM.

Even though Internet and mobile resources are helpful, the best source of news in an emergency like this is still the TV news. In addition to surfing the Internet, we're surfing the TV channels.

Right now, there's nothing for my wife and me to do but hurry up and wait. Many people are volunteering or donated food or resources to shelters, but that's work for people who've already been evacuated, or who are in areas that are completely safe. I don't want to stray too far from home, because if I do, our neighborhood needs to be evacuated, I'd just be adding to the problem for emergency services.

Well, there is one thing I can do to help: Donate money. You can donate on the Web -- or, if you're a Second Life resident, visit one of the kiosks that have been set up in the Diegoland sim, a San Diego-themed area in Second Life.

Since we moved to San Diego in 1997, we've been through three local and national emergencies. The first was 9/11, and then the fires of 2003, and now the current fires. During a national or local emergency, if you're threatened but not actually under attack, you spend a lot of time waiting and seeking information. The standard position is sitting on the couch with the TV on and a laptop with a Wi-Fi connection on your lap.

There are several neighborhoods being evacuated within about 22 miles of our house, and one about eight miles away, but the fires haven't come closer in the last 14 hours or so. Things could be a heck of a lot worse for my wife and me.

Our thoughts are with our neighbors in Southern California who've evacuated or lost their homes, with the one killed and many injured, and with the firefighters and the emergency services workers fighting on our behalf.

What Internet and mobile resources have you found for keeping track of the Southern California fires?

Update 7:30 pm ET:

Update 8:30 pm ET:

  • Fire Season 2007: Battling California's Wildfires: Apparently published by the office of the governor, includes links to fire assistance information, useful phone numbers, yet another Google Map, activity reports, utility outages, and information organized by fire (Witch Fire, Harris Fire, Canyon Fire, etc.)

About the Author(s)

Mitch Wagner

California Bureau Chief, Light Reading

Mitch Wagner is California bureau chief for Light Reading.

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