Every summer in British Columbia, along with long days, sunshine, heat, and little rain comes an all-too-familiar reality: hundreds of wildfires.

Some of them affect only uninhabited regions in BC, but many threaten communities, property, pets, livestock, and human lives.  During the fire season it is critical that accurate, relevant and adequate fire information be available to the public.

A Need For All-In-One Information Map

When Neil Johnston of Vancouver, BC, tried to determine a safe route south for his parents he became frustrated.  His parents had been evacuated from their home near Soda Creek, north of Williams Lake, and he became disheartened having to flip between many scattered sources of critical information. He needed answers fast, all in one place, and he was flipping between three major data sources on different browser tabs and trying to correlate the data.  It was this frustration that inspired him to create Mobile BC Firemap, a GIS integrating many key fire-related datasets together in a useful format.

People affected by wildfires need to get information quickly. These people include residents in evacuation areas, travellers, municipal government personnel, and emergency crews.  Unfortunately, there are many sources of fire-related information which require combining in order to get many of the answers you might need.  In British Columbia, some of the key resources available are:

  • The BC Wildfire Service, which provides an Active Fires Map;
  • DriveBC, which has a Highway Conditions map;
  • EmergencyInfoBC, which provides evacuation order and alert information;
  • Google Maps, which provides live traffic information; and
  • Finally, news and media sources, which provide related stories and updates

The final GIS product allows the user to see various wildfire features for the entire province of British Columbia at a glance on both desktops and mobile devices:

  • Active wildfire perimeters
  • Evacuation alerts and orders
  • Highway alerts
  • Wind conditions
  • Traffic flow
  • Lightning strike density
  • Highway cameras
  • Evacuee reception and comfort centres
  • Smoke forecasts
  • Fire-related Tweets

Mobile BC Firemap Plus directly incorporates and displays data straight from the sources (with some data manipulation where needed) and is a very good example of the principles of GIS and the many ways in which multiple datasets can be assembled and applied efficiently and effectively.

The data on the map updates dynamically by setting the refresh frequency on each layer in ArcGIS Online.  The most critical information such as evacuation alerts and orders is refreshed every 5 minutes, and other less important information is updated less often.  The refresh frequency settings are constrained by how often the source datasets are updated, by accounting for avoiding overwhelming the source data servers, and also by accounting for internet traffic of end users. For example, the fire perimeter data is only updated around midnight daily, so the update frequency is set accordingly.  The NASA updates its fire data every 12 hours and helps with providing clarity of the advancing fronts of the fire, so the update frequency for this dataset is every 6 hours.

BC Fire Map - Neil Johnson 2017

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