As California Burns, Google Serves Up Answers In Search

The skies over Utah and Nevada on most of my way from Wyoming to California were incredibly dark this past Saturday. You could see a thick layer of haze and smoke over the major cities. The smoke came from the fire burning throughout California. Even as far as Jackson Hole, the thick, environmental experts concluded the dark gray smoke from the Redding fire covered the bright blue sky.

It’s then that I realized one of the real values of Google’s past work with search and the idea around SOS alerts.

Indeed, Google offers an SOS alert for the California wildfires. A query for “California wildfires” returns a list of information about the California wildfires. The SOS alert is really about helping people in times of crisis and giving them access to timely information about a specific situation. It was introduced in July 2017.



Google serves up a map of the affected area with approximate locations of where the fires continue to burn. It also has a list of shelters and evacuation centers, active and inactive. The map shows satellite images and information for the Mendocino Complex, Carr Fire, and Holy Fire, along with traffic conditions and road closures in those areas.  

But the SOS alert is not only used for California wildfires. People also can find information based on maps for other natural disasters like hurricanes.

In 2017, the U.S. Department of Agriculture released a statement calling for California to change the way it suppresses forest fires. Last year costs past the $2 billion milestone, according the report. Too many standing dead trees in a state with dwindling water supplies is one reason for all the wildfires, opponents argue.

California laws prevent those who want to prevent fires from doing "the prescribed burning, harvesting, or insect control to prevent leaving a fuel load in the forest for future fires to feed on,” Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue wrote in a statement. “That’s wrong, and that’s no way to manage the Forest Service.”

Unfortunately, Google’s SOS alert is not as comprehensive for rural areas like Wyoming. Compared with those raging out of control in California, Google offers little information about the Bridget-Teton National Forest’s Fire Trail burning on the Greys River. Most of the information about that fire comes from local the local Wyoming forest service.

As a reminder, when they are outside of the affected area, people looking for information might need to add the name of the event and/or the location to get specific details.

CalFire also provides maps and general locations of the burning fire. Bing also pulls in data from this site. 







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