California Fire Season: Goofing with Maps

I don’t really have too much time on my hands. I have actual work I might be doing and undoubtedly will do. But wildfires have been a major professional preoccupation this summer — here’s a current example of what I’m talking about. And visualizing where the fires are and how big they are (in both absolute and relative terms) has become part of that preoccupation.

There are lots of maps out there. For instance, both Cal Fire’s site (maintained by our state firefighting agency) and Inciweb (the site reporting fires on federal lands) both feature maps of each and every conflagration. And there are independent mapping sites — for instance, the one that created this rather amazingly detailed map of the King Fire currently burning northeast of Sacramento — that provide details that most people would never even think of (for instance, overlaying wind data on the area where the fire is burning).

But of course, if you have a map, you want another map. So I started goofing around with a site/service a colleague introduced me to several months ago, Mapbox. My original purpose was to create a map that overlaid the footprint of the King Fire (which as of today has burned 82,000 acres, or 120 square miles) on the Bay Area. In theory, that would allow Bay Area people to envision better what that burned area means in a context they may understand better than a) “82,000 acres” and b) 120 square miles. I discovered that it’s easy to find the data showing the footprint of the King Fire and others, and I wound up making the map above. Plenty of room for improvement there. For instance, including the date and size of each fire.

The execution of my original concept, accomplished with my crude beginner’s skills in Photoshop, is below. I tweeted that image, and someone out there on the twtinternets suggested I could make this image more interesting by rotating the overlaid fire footprint so that it’s aligned better with the San Francisco Peninsula. Well, maybe I will.


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