Californians have a new tool to track wildfires as head into the height of fire season.
Watch Duty allows people to track fire behavior in real-time.
The app’s coverage zone recently expanded from a handful of Bay Area counties to the entire state.
Fire season is ramping up across California-- with the Electra Fire consuming thousands of acres southeast of Sacramento.
Smaller fires have been popping up across the Central Coast--with bone dry vegetation, fueling massive flames.
“I want people to be able to have ample time to get out, not start scrambling when they find out it’s in their backyard and that’s the story that you hear all the time,” said John Mills, Watch Duty App CEO .
The app aims to give people an early warning as soon as a fire breaks out.
Watch Duty consists of 25 fire reporters who monitor scanner traffic and gather information into a centralized source.
“You get an update from your local government telling you to leave, they don’t tell you, ‘the fires at the corner of this street, it’s 15 acres, the wind is high going north-northwest,’” said Mills.
The app is run by a group of volunteers who monitor fire starts across California.
“I found that with watch duty, it was a good idea. It seemed like we could help a lot more people,” said Fire Reporter Sekhar Padmanabhan, who is based in Los Angeles.
Here’s how it works:
There’s a statewide map showing active and recently contained wildfires.
You can sign up for alerts in your county, and upload photos from the scene.
Those photos are then vetted before going on the app.
“That sends us a message and we know that someone uploaded a photo at this latitude and longitude looking in this direction,” said Mills. “That helps us verify ‘okay, they actually took that photo, on their phone through our app’, and it helps us weed out the noise so we can actually put good information out there.”
The CEO of Watch Duty stressed the importance of verifying information and limiting the number of people who can post to the app.
“There are very few people who can actually post because it’s very dangerous,” said Mills. “We’re making sure that we’re doing the best thing we can do and be good actors.”
We reached out to Cal Fire headquarters. They say they can’t comment on this specific app since it’s new. However, they do welcome any tool that increases situational awareness during an emergency.
Volunteers, meanwhile, say their goal is to simply help out.
“For now, we’re all doing it just because of the way we could help people. That’s all the reason we all came together to do this,” said Padmanabhan.
Watch Duty plans to eventually expand beyond California and include other disasters such as floods and earthquakes.