As wildfires continue to tear through parts of California and Colorado, Google has launched new tools to help people stay informed about their progress. Starting today, Google search queries for information about the fires will turn up more than just news stories and alerts -- they'll also display maps of the fires' boundaries. The Google Maps app will display the same wildfire boundaries to people attempting to enjoy the height of summer nearby, and will also provide warnings and "ambient alerts" to those who begin to approach affected areas.
But here's the most important part: That crucial fire map information is being updated hourly. To make sure people get the most accurate view possible, Google has been using its Google Earth Engine's analytics tools to monitor imagery provided by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s four GOES satellites. Those satellites can't directly "see" the flames, but they can see the prodigious plumes of smoke those flames produce, along with the sizable thermal hotspots that signify areas of intense fire activity.
Google's tools here aren't new, strictly speaking -- the search giant piloted this map boundary feature during last year's wildfire season with input from emergency services officials in California and Colorado. That said, they're likely to be especially helpful this year.
As Google's Crisis Response Lead Yossi Matias pointed out in a blog post, the National Interagency Fire Center is forecasting above-normal wildfire potential throughout the United States with a window of risk that extends at least through September. And of course, the potential for devastating wildfires extends well beyond the US: Large swaths of Canada's prairies could also be at risk, and as of the end of July, wildfires in Russia had burned an expanse of forests and steppes larger than Greece. Unfortunately, these public-facing fire tracking tools remain exclusive to the United States for now, but a Google spokesperson confirmed to The Verge that the company hopes to roll them out internationally in the future.