As part of a push to make Google Maps more useful during emergencies, the company is making it easier to find the most up-to-date information about wildfires.
Google announced on Wednesday that it is adding a new wildfire layer to Google Maps that users will be able to turn on to see the most up-to-date information about multiple fires at the same time. This is especially important during fire season, when multiple fires may be burning at the same time.
According to Google, the new layer will show “most major fires that cause significant evacuations,” as well as many smaller fires across the United States. Users will be able to tap a fire on the map to get more information, such as emergency websites and evacuation information. There will also be information on containment, the number of acres burned, road closures, and evacuations in the United States. Later this year, Google Maps plans to expand this feature to Australia, which has also experienced devastating wildfires in recent years.
There are several existing layers in Google Maps, including one that provides Covid-19 data and another that can display bike paths. Google Maps is used by over a billion people every month, according to the company.
Thanks to a feature Google introduced last year that uses satellite data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, it’s already possible to see the boundaries of some wildfires on Google Maps.
However, product manager Can Comertoglu said this earlier feature was limited to fires that were larger than about 7,000 to 10,000 acres in a briefing with reporters last week about changes coming to Google Maps. So far this year, there have been nearly 43,000 wildfires in the United States, many of which are smaller but still pose a threat to homes and lives.
“When they happen, they’re important for locals to know about,” Comertoglu said.
The new wildfire-mapping feature accomplishes this by incorporating data from the National Interagency Fire Center in the United States, which Google Maps receives about every hour, according to Comertoglu. This week, the wildfire map layer will be available on Android smartphones, and in October, it will be available on iPhones and computers.