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Maps are cool. People like maps.

maps are cool
Author:  Jon Riley, Chelan County Fire District #1

Chelan County Fire District 1’s simple, effective tool just about anyone can make using free software and a handsaw.


The focal point of any Chelan County Fire District #1 public education event is a Google Earth image of Wenatchee, Washington printed on a 2×4 foot sheet of paper. The map is laid flat on a table held down by stacks of Firewise literature and a couple rocks. Accompanying the map is a red, wooden arrow cut to a 1-mile map scale.

People come to our fire table and predictably begin searching for their house. (If only I had a juniper bush that prompted vegetation removal with equal effectiveness.) The satellite image is a conversation starter: “found your house yet? Have you heard the term wildland urban interface?” The map converts a lengthy verbal description of the WUI into an image displaying not only the what, where, but the “wow, we have a big problem” and that most people don’t live in the WUI.

Enter the little red arrow. “Orient the arrow where wildfire may come from, with the tip resting on your house.” Every structure in our fire district is vulnerable to fire brands. Embers lofting miles ahead of the 2015 Sleepy Hollow fire resulted in the destruction of several warehouses in Wenatchee’s downtown core. Demonstrate this visually to the suburban resident living a half mile from the WUI thing they just learned about and now you have their attention. The visual and resulting ember discussion might just be the spark to get that neglected leaf pile hauled to the compost pile or those gutters cleaned out each spring.

As someone who is rapidly falling behind in computer technology, I was able to download Google Earth (free), and ask a local print company to blow it up (nearly free).  Go one step further and ask your local or county GIS guru to export a KMZ file overlay of your county’s 50-year fire history and you have yourself a local demonstration of wildfire and potential community hazard.

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